Or what if I say, “Friendo, this here toilet’s flushing mechanism just hit a home run.” Have I uttered a tired cliché or used an expression that, like my accent, tells the listener that I am an American? I choose the latter interpretation. It’s not that I am fond of stock phrases. I am just a generous soul who would prefer to think that the speakers and writers I encounter are displaying hallmarks of their culture, not foreign objects clogging their mental pipes. Lack of eloquence is not crime, and stock phrases “are there for the taking” so people who don’t know how to say something clever “can get through the day.”
So the merely inelegant does not invite the sting of my mace, nor the heat of my blade. Nay, my wrath is reserved for the lazy cliché, the phrase too graceless to be colloquial, too devious to be polite, and too faddish to mean anything but that the person has not thought about what he is saying. Or worse, what he is writing.
I have compiled a brief list of internet-era clichés that we need to put onto a raft in the middle of the ocean, along with the collected works of Aerosmith and Starbuck’s Coffee’s roasting methods. After a small ceremony we will give the raft a shove, and then never look upon their like again:
I CAN’T EVEN (as a complete statement with nothing following “even,” especially to express anger)
This phrase means, “This phenomenon, event, or comment angers me so much that I cannot even discuss it lest I further disturb my delicate nature.” Now I don’t know about y’all but when I can’t even, I don’t. If someone is at ease enough to deploy the “I cant even” fake-anger cliché, then they definitely could. They’re just too entitled and lazy to bother. Ergo: this phrase is not simply a cliché, it’s also a lie.
HERE’S THE THING
What? “Here’s the thing” gets my ire up? Even after I started this polite rant by saying I do not mind common expressions?
I have no problem with here’s-the-thinging a thing in conversation. I am sure I do it frequently. To become a hateful cliché, it must be written down. I am looking at you, public radio. "Here's the thing" appears in roughly every third story on NPR, PRI, and This American Life. At Chicago’s WBEZ, it approaches 75% of all stories. The goal of many public radio reporters is to replicate a conversational tone, and it is a worthy goal for sure. But “here’s the thing” and phrases like it sound forced in a pre-recorded, narrated segment. It’s like seeing the arm of a puppeteer. Rather than deftly nudging the listener toward the thesis of the piece, “here’s the thing” stops everything to announce exactly when it is occurring and what it is. Here is a reporter, in an otherwise fine piece, dropping the phrase in the very lead.
Public radio reporters also abuse “THINK” or “PICTURE” as imperative verbs leading a sentence. I often wind up shouting, alone in my apartment or on public transit, “Describe it to me, you lazy ass! Make me think, don't tell me to!”
I can say these nasty things because I am a WBEZ High Fidelity Member.
Yesterday the economics explainer-pundit Megan McArdle wrote the following sentence in Bloomberg Business, under the headline, When Will Self-Driving Trucks Destroy America?:
“It seemed as if everyone I knew was suddenly deeply worried that these robo-semis were going to hit America's economy like, well, a Mack truck.”
As in all such uses of this particular punctuation-phraselet, comma-well-comma only serves to emphasize the weakness of the sentence. If she is so unimaginative that that is the best metaphor she could think up after hours of mental labor, her options were: 1) deploy the Mack truck metaphor without apology or 2) excise it completely. Comma-well-comma is odious and ubiquitous. A future Gibbon will attribute the decline and fall of the American empire to this very construction.
FAST FORWARD TO or worse FLASH FORWARD TO
Both terms simply mean: “now,” “later,” “next,” “today,” or even “eventually.” They are deployed with cinematic flair at the start of a paragraph to show a big change over time from from whatever was said in the previous paragraph. Both FFTs mean nothing more than “I am emphasizing this part of my article.” Sci-fi writers and chrononauts (you know us as time travelers) get an exemption here and may use either phrase whenever necessary. The rest of yas: fucking stop.
SPOILER ALERT when no spoiler is actually following the alert
We are done with this one. Good job everyone.
THIS as adjective preceding a hyperlink
Like a positive version of “I can’t even,” the writer is so overwhelmed with love of whatever he is linking to that language itself fails. Yes, it does, but not in the way he thinks.
SO MUCH THIS as adjective
No explanation necessary.
WAIT FOR IT especially in all caps or italics, used facetiously to say that the banal detail about to follow is worth waiting for but really (wink, wink) it is not.
In the interest of proving that I am not just some dickhead fogy spouting off his bitch-list, I offer this example:
“In 2010, the Library of America published 'Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu' in book form. Updike, just before he died, had added a preface, an afterword, and--wait for it—some excellent footnotes that reinforce observations he made in 1960 with statistics he did not have access to at the time.”
That was me in a 2011 essay about John Updike. After it ran on the website “The Morning News,” my brother said, “You might want to avoid the phrase ‘wait for it.’ It’s very played.” The fact that my brother had to school me is bad enough, but the fact that I was writing about the cliché-free Great One Himself makes me occasionally wake up screaming in embarrassment.
Cliché is a pit which we all must avoid. When we do not, the evidence can remain forever. As for my own transgression, it may be time to forgive myself. Cringing won't make it go away. As the wise but ineloquent say, what’s done is done.