Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

The Chestnut Diet: How To Cut Cliches Out of Your Writing

Time to throw the cliches out with the bathwater -- and improve your writing 110%!

by
Kathy Shaidle

Bio

March 26, 2013 - 7:00 am
Page 1 of 4  Next ->   View as Single Page

During my second afternoon at the NRI Summit, mid-way through yet another congressman’s address, I mused about how easy it would be to create a Right-Wing Red-Meat Speech Generator:

First, plug in some vintage Reagan and Buckley quotations. 

(Hell, mix ‘em up and see if anyone notices: “I’m from the Boston telephone directory and I’m here to help you…”)

Then sprinkle on some “hard-working Mexicans.”

Squeeze in a reference to that lousy poem carved onto an old French statue.

Finally, make “America is the greatest country in the world” a default value.

I ask you:

Why do professional conservatives pay speechwriters big money when some basic java script could produce the same mediocre results — a string of empty-calorie cliches?

I’m not the only one complaining about this.

YouTube Preview Image

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (22)
All Comments   (22)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Avoid Cliches like the plague! They're a dime a dozen!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Great advice. Now we can all communicate better going forward.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Cliches can lead to your arrest. The unabomber Ted Kaczynski, had a unique style and a few favorite sayings he used in his letters. One of them, "You cannot eat your cake and have it too," at first led investigators to believe Kaczynksi was of average or low intelligence, because everyone knows the saying is "you cannot have your cake and eat it too." Ted's version is much more logical, when you think about.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"This isn’t just a political messaging issue, although we right-wingers are always being told we need to 'rebrand.'"
What the Right needs to do is really THINK about the values they espouse (this article IS about mindless espousing, correct?) and stop trying to have it both ways. If you REALLY believe in your freedom then you believe in mine as well; passing laws and constitutional amendments forbidding idiotic things like two fairies calling themselves "married" or declaring the Ten Commandments to be the basic law of the land only makes the Right look like ridiculous, hidebound ideologues and turns reasonable people off to the message of individual freedom trapped in the amber of those political cliches.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Again, about the passive voice. It seems to me that the only people who have trouble with the passive voice are English teachers who knock a letter grade off your term paper for it. They indoctrinate all the journalism and English majors that this is some crime right up there with splitting an infinitive or dangling a participle.

I have always liked to use the passive voice. Sometimes a person doesn't care if his writing isn't "forceful" enough. Sometimes there's a nice smoothness to the writing and it has a nice story telling quality to it. Not every essay is a news report or a call to action. In my opinion, it's one of those writing rules that all the grammarians like to shove up people's noses, but is really just nitpicking.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Tom,

You are "110%" correct. Passive voice is a STYLE of writing, it is every bit as "legitimate" as others if the outcome is smooth and the thoughts are conveyed without undue clumsiness or difficulty for the reader.

The actual success of such a style on a case by case basis is also a bit subjective, as most "readers" that you'd encounter bothering to express any dissatisfaction with "passive voice" are the Apparatchiks of a "State Run Edumication Inrusty" who are generally less intelligent and well read than their "status" would otherwise indicate.

They dont like "passive voice" because its "too hard" for them to understand… in rather the same way a competitive private sector job, without the artificialities of tenure and a guaranteed retirement severed from any actual value you deliver to the customer (employer) is also “too hard” for them to master.

They are too LAZY to read well written material in The Passive Voice. It simply goes over their heads, and as the dutiful Low-Information Political Drones they are, they attack that which they cannot comprehend.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Root,
I think you've nailed it. Perhaps it could be summed up as, if you don't understand the reason for a rule, it's probably designed to accommodate the lowest intelligence. You made me think that perhaps the passive voice taboo is also a backwards bend for those who English is a second language, i.e. immigrants. Recent history has shown that for academia any distinctly Anglo culture or idiom needs to be "diversified". Oddly enough, Spanish for English speakers cirricula still throws those future indicative tenses and the like at you. After all, we all need to understand the "richness" of a foreign language.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Have to disagree Kathy, sometimes a well chosen cliche can be a great way to make a point because people are familiar with them. Same thing works in comedy,
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I take umbrage to your 110%! I understand that you wouldn't tell your boss you'll be sure to give a task 95% of your effort (which is still technically an A) as you want him/her to have complete competence in you, but can anyone think of a day that goes 100% perfectly? Is there any job that can't be improved upon? ...............sulking-rant-scold over...........
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It would be naïve to think that very many people educated in Americanized schools would even know what the active or passive voice is. The majority of people who read newspapers and listen to broadcast news are basically ignorant of the English language; after all they speak the merican language of television. So politicians know their audience and have no qualms about shoveling out the cliché after cliché speech. By the way it was Hilary the Great who coined the cliché "we are all new Yorkers now" after the September 11 attack. I will never be a New Yorker I will never have amount of money that it takes to be a New Yorker and I will never ever have the power and wealth of the Clinton family.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I didn't learn English until I learned French. It is only when you break down a language that you understand it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You are right. I learned the English language by learning and teaching Latin. The Latin language is an invention of logic and clear thinking untainted by American TV. American English has been in complete free fall for several decades now; I confess that I am having more and more difficulty understanding Americans when they speak their Newspeak.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, some good news: it doesn't take long for phrases to go moldy and stale, maybe only days in pundit world. Two examples of the recently dead:

-- low-information voters, which means 'anyone who disagrees with me'. Next step may be to refine into acronym form, so 'Low-Information Airhead Republican Schlubs' simplifies to LIARS.
-- wisdom of crowds, which seems to be a pointless inversion of 'madness of crowds', part of the title of a seminal book by Charles Mackay, first published in 1841. Oscar Wilde is no doubt rotating rapidly in his grave, because messing with a title of true quality is like pissing on a communion wafer, namely best left to Democrats.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
But but but... what if you get a chance to say something you have always wanted to say?

Yes, I like cliche phrases. In certain settings. If the situation we are talking about is something that should be treated seriously, and they are used in a serious manner, no, they are not good then. But if not, if I find them in a setting where the more lighthearted approach is appropriate I'm afraid I can find them quite amusing. So for me it depends on the context. Used right they can be funny, and also comforting in the way anything old and often used and very familiar can be.

Especially if I'm very tired, or depressed, and looking for something to help me relax and unwind a bit I usually can achieve that better with something that does seem comfortably familiar, no matter how worn, rather than with something that seems all new, and since I often use comedy for that purpose I also often look for exactly the kind of writing where you are likely to find phrases like "We are not in Kansas anymore".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 2 Next View All