Columns

2011.11.16 Cliches are so 24/7/365

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

Is it because I live in a a sleepy little town where goalposts aren’t moved, envelopes aren’t pushed and boxes aren’t thought outside of that I’ve never before heard the trite phrase “diamond geezer”?

Perhaps I’m not touching base often enough. Basically, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never heard that phrase before. Absolutely. Not.

I’m just surprised that it could appear on a list of Most Annoying Clichés and yet I’ve never been annoyed by it. With all due respect, it’s more mystery than overused. I can’t even find a good definition. 

Bear with me, but I can’t come up with a bottom line or even a ballpark figure. It boggles the mind. The fact of the matter is, there are obviously not enough people singing from the same hymnbook. At the end of the day, even a 24/7 search might not address this issue.

That takes care of at least half of the “most-annoying” list offered by the Plain English Campaign. It’s an old list from 2004 and surely there are many more annoyances that have arrived in the past seven years.

According to the “Mind your language” blog in the British newspaper, The Guardian, Google can help track down clichés through the Timeline search feature. It’s not rocket science, the author  David Marsh says. 

That was true last March when the article was written, but Google removed Timeline a few days ago. Now it’s suggested to try the Google Ngram Viewer which, to me, does suggest a bit of rocket science.

Marsh once wrote about the Oxford Comma which I believe was a punk band from the late 1980s. The Oxford comma is also the last one in this list: “He ate an apple, a banana, and five grapes.” 

The Oxford University Press writing guide suggested that, as a general rule, the Oxford comma should not be used. Marsh said the reaction to this led him to believe that the entire population of America was up in arms about that statement. “Are you people insane?,” one person wrote. “The Oxford comma is what separates us from the animals.”

The Observer does what Marsh suggests: Use common sense. Actually, my rule is to help the reader. We would list an apple, a banana and five grapes, but there are times when the extra comma is needed to help the reader understand what was written.

Another of Marsh’s columns discusses complaints that too many Americanisms are working their way into British writing. Lickety split, pony up, duke it out, dweeb, schlep, kindergarten, upcoming. As George Bernard Shaw said, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

I know I’m old-fashioned in my admiration for the hyphen and I’m disappointed in the Associated Press for officially changing e-mail to email. Email doesn’t look right, doesn’t make sense in my head. How about eMail?

All of this evolved from reading a David March column about brackets, as in [brackets]. Apparently, brackets are getting overused at The Guardian.

A reader wrote: “I am bemused by the [apparent increase in the] use of [square] brackets in [your] features and articles. Is there a reason [or a name] for this [phenomenon]? It seems to be [most] prevalent in your use of [reported] speech.”

Another wrote: “I agree [with the letter about square brackets].”

Have you wondered about the two square bracket keys on your keypad? They’re used to insert some important information into a quote, something the speaker didn’t actually say.

They make their way into Observer sports stories occasionally, like when a coach talks about an athlete but only uses the last name. When the quote is written, the first name is added. “I thought [Jacob] McVay played his best game of the season.”

Either you agree that it’s important information or you say, “Of course everyone reading the story knows who McVay is without bracketing in his first name.”

It’s just one of those odd things writers think about. I say: Give every key on the pad it’s due now and then.

Now that all is said and done, it’s time to move on. Going forward, if you know what I mean.

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