Saturday, March 27, 2004

Insert funny cliché here

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Far be it from me to question the Internet, but I have a rather sizeable bone to pick with a particular Web site. The Plain English Campaign, a British group that campaigns against the use of clichés, has just released what it says is the most annoying cliché in the English language.

For those of you just tuning in, clichés are those annoyingly common phrases that have long ago worn out their welcome. Think of “worn out their welcome.” By the way, the word is pronounced “klee-shay,” not “clitchie,” as I once overheard in line at a store up the Flint.

Anyway, the Plain English Campaign has taken a poll to decide the mother of bad clichés — to coin a phrase.

Ready or not, here it is: “At the end of the day.” As in, “At the end of the day,

Not that anybody would remember, but last year around Mother’s Day, after hours of cogitation, I came up with the headline “Mom’s The Word.” Get it? That was all mine. You can’t achieve that kind of literary ingeniousness in the newspaper biz unless you have a sack full of clichés handy.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The Plain English Campaign compiled a list of some decent honorable mentions. I wouldn’t lose any sleep if people stopped saying “bear with me,” for instance.

“Pushing the envelope,” meaning new and untested, is a cliché that I never really understood — which envelope are we talking about, how the hell are we pushing it, and where's it going? When I hear that one, I imagine people sliding a plain white envelope back and forth across a desk. What’s so interesting about that?

I think we’re all in agreement that “thinking outside the box” should have been strangled in its crib. Also, people who say that one while making finger-quotes should have been strangled in their cribs.

The Plain English Campaign listed a cliché or two that I’ve never heard of, which is always both exhilarating and scary. One such example is “singing from the same hymn sheet.” Must be a British thing — we’ve got the separation of church and state here.

But given enough time and exposure here, I’m sure Americans will start hopping on that bandwagon. Yes indeed. I can see “singing from the same hymn sheet” catching on like gangbusters. Or wildfire. Or hotcakes. Six of one, half-dozen of the other.

My own pet peeve cliché is when people say, “I hate when that happens,” trying to be funny. For example, I’ll tell a story about some poor guy who accidentally lopped off his foot while chopping wood — when comes the jaunty riposte from the peanut gallery: “Boy! I hate when that happens!”

The smarminess of that phrase makes me want to punch faces over and over.

Fie on the Plain English Campaign — “I hate when that happens” is worse than “at the end of the day” any day of the week, six ways from Sunday.

Another beef I have with crowning “at the end of the day” king of the clichés is that, while it may be a tired expression, it actually means something. There really is an end of the day.

Not so with “catch as catch can,” or, still worse, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Somebody must’ve invented that last one. At some point, it was new. A plague on that fateful day! I wasn’t there, but it probably looked like this:

--

Scene: A duck blind. Ducks frolic in a shallow pond with impunity, the miserable creatures. Hunter 1 enters and blasts one to gooey pieces with a .50-caliber assault rifle. But hark! Hunter 2 enters.

HUNTER 1: How’s tricks?

HUNTER 2: Easy come, easy go. Cold enough for you?

HUNTER 1: (pointing to a nearby campfire, where he’s been trying to heat water for coffee all afternoon without success) A watched pot never boils.

HUNTER 2: And how, my good man. Maybe you need to throw more irons on the fire.

HUNTER 1: That’s the ticket. Hunt ducks much, Diamond Jim?

HUNTER 2: Actually, I’m really a people person.

[Awkward silence ensues for several hours, during which the ducks align themselves into neat rows.]

HUNTER 1: (apropos nothing) Penny wise, pound foolish.

HUNTER 2: Out of the mouths of babes. (holds up a steaming mug) Is this your cup of tea?

HUNTER 1: Nope.

[The bushes begin to rustle with activity.]

HUNTER 1: (raising his gun) Eureka! There’s gold in them thar hills! By “gold,” I mean ducks. And by “hills,” I mean bushes.

HUNTER 2: Stay thy hand, fair prince. You’ve already bagged a duck today. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

HUNTER 1: Mind your own beeswax. Vamoose. Take a long walk off a short pier. Am-scray.

[Hunter 2 raises his own gun at Hunter 1 and shoots him in the foot.]

HUNTER 2: Told you I was a people person.

[Drags Hunter 1 off to his pickup and ties him to the fender, right above the “Keep on Truckin’ bumper sticker.]

HUNTER 2: (starts up car) Help is just a phone call away. Unfortunately, you have no phone.

HUNTER 1: (wiping away a tear) I hate when this happens.

[Finis.]

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