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Telling It Like It Is ...er, Make That Was

Telling It Like It Is ...er, Make That Was

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There are certain turns of phrase so threadbare from overuse that their survival in print seems to threaten the very health of the language in the same way that an uneaten meatloaf turns toxic if allowed to sit in the fridge week after week. We're talking about something more than a mere cliché, mind you.

To illustrate: The term déjà vu -- which, as we surely all know by now, is French for "already seen" -- is a cliché. The newer "déjà vu all over again" is worse than a cliché. It is a bit of wordplay that stopped playing about 15 minutes after its coinage some years back but, for some reason, still gets dragged into mirthless and pained service.

Yes, yes, we've written it ourselves -- several times over and fairly recently. But maybe this contrite act of public confession will start us and all those publications the world over who, of course, ape our very essence, along the pathways of verbal originality and rectitude.

Why do we bring this matter up in the last issue of the first year of the new millennium? Because it is important that we and others who influence public opinion learn to think out of the box. Note that the phrase "out of the box" is now hopelessly trapped inside the box, where it does the same sort of painful regular duty as "déjà vu all over aqain." And did we, just a moment ago, invoke "the new millennium"? Indeed we did. This is hard business, trying to do right with words.

At the end of the day, however ... .Wait a minute. "At the end of the day" is surely the worst offender of all, an act of metaphorical treason to the language unless used in its literal sense of dusk. When all's said and done ... . Sorry. By the time this paragraph ends, or this editorial, you'll hopefully understand, er, where we're coming from.

The fact is, we find ourselves in new, uncharted waters, uh, times, um, whatever. Very little that we're confronted with has been seen already. We don't have any choice about being "out of the box." There ain't no box! Ditto with the requirement to be "proactive." (Would someone explain how that one is supposed to improve on plain, old-fashioned "active"?)

"Been there, done that"? Yeah, so have we. We promise, and it's as good a resolution as you're likely to encounter at the end of this or any year, to try to use -- not new words, necessarily, for there aren't many of those -- but the same old words to better effect. It's the least we can do at a time when there are deadly characters across the waters who have this terrible rage for us and express it in language that is both learned and expressed by rote.

Lighten up and get serious. (That's a paradox, but trust us.) See the world with fresh eyes. Say it new. We'll try to. We promise. n

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