Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Clinching the cliché?

So, what's hot in the language news this week? Well, it's that hoary old chestnut (to use a cliché) the cliché - those phrases or expressions that have been so overused they have become almost meaningless. Why the big fuss? Well, the Plain English Campaign recently surveyed 5000 people in over 70 countries in a bid to discover the most irritating phrase in the English language. Most of these linguistic irritations were clichés, and the following ones hit the nomination big-time (oops, there's another one...):

singing from the same hymn sheet
thinking outside the box
move the goalposts
it's not rocket science
touch base

It may not seem a very big deal (oops, there I go again...) but one teensy little press release from the Plain English Campaign, and both the readers and writers at The Times were off. There stood the poor little cliché, on one side heralded as the essential lubricant of the language, a good honest sheep in the linguistic farmyard; and lambasted on the other as meaningless babble, an evil unworthy goat to be cast out amongst the wild and the wicked where it belongs.

In this debate we see the eternal linguistic battle between those who want to regulate our language, to fix it in some idealised form so that we can clearly say that this is right and that is wrong; and those who want to accept it for what it is in all its chaotic and idiosyncratic glory. Where do you stand? Check out the links and post your thoughts.

First the Plain English Campaign's press release:

"At the end of the day...we're fed up with clichés"

Then the debate. The link below will take you to the homepage. Type "clichés" in the search box in the top left hand corner. Then click on the "search" button in the "search the site" box. Then click on the links to the following 3 articles:

"With greatest respect your lordship, this cliché is getting away with murder", John Mortimer, 25 Mar 2004

"Celebrate clichés, the grace notes of English", Simon Jenkins, 26 Mar 2004

"Plain English: time to get real", Jane Shilling, 26 Mar 2004

The debate in The Times


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