10 Flood related words/phrases I don’t want to hear again for a long time

1. Mother Nature – a gross misrepresentation of agency. At least be prepared to blame God, but better yet, blame the broken world we live in thanks to sin. See here.
2. Grave fears – seems insensitive in the extreme. How about “serious fears” or just “we fear for their lives”…
3. Inundated – seriously. I heard a lady who had miraculously survived a torrent but who had been cut by barbed wire say her legs had been “inundated” with scratches.
4. Essential items – when talking about bread, milk, and toilet paper).
5. Road closed – especially when it comes to people who have been stupid enough to drive through flooded causeways
6. “Channel Seven” – Ben was onto something when he suggested Channel Seven’s coverage seems to be more about self promoting than flood coverage. You don’t have to throw the words “Channel Seven” in front of any noun to indicate possession. Try “our”… or don’t talk about the thing you’re flying in at all. Mention your reporter by name. Humanise yourselves.
7. Rubbernecking – it’s an ok word when it’s original, but it becomes hackneyed very quickly.
8. We are “____” – insert parochial catchcry here – but “Queenslander” is particularly abhorrent. Anna Bligh’s “Remember who we are, we’re Queenslanders” represents most of the things that are wrong with our state. Least of all, because it works.
9. Anything Julia Gillard says – she talks like a robot version of Kath and Kim. Emotionless strine. If Anna Bligh can run rings around you then you’re in big trouble.
10. Inland tsunami/wall of water.

Some flood related puns/cliches for good measure:

1. Anything Noah related – any jokes about pairs of animals or building an ark.
2. “uncharted waters”
3. A new watermark.
4. “pooling our resources”
5. “swamped”
6. “fatal flood” – alliterative, but unoriginal. Headline writers have been using it since the early chapters of Genesis.
7. “burst its banks”
8. Any personification or application of agency to a stream of water that is actually simply taking the path of least resistance from one place to another.
9. Describing flood losses as “down the drain” or “down the gurgler”
10. Descriptions of flood damaged locales as “ground zero” or a “war zone”

The “Sainted Krishna” prize for “Mixed Spiritual Metaphor” goes to Anna Bligh for:

“I hope and pray that mother nature is leaving us alone to get on with the job of cleaning up and recovering from this event.” source: halfway down this story

Ending the quest for the Holy Grail

Most guides to better writing include, somewhere in the top ten tips, something about avoiding hackneyed cliches. Hackneyed cliches like describing the search for something special as a “quest for the Holy Grail.”

Here’s how bad it is.

“In 2008, Guardian columnist Tim Radford wrote: “British journalists have invoked the holy grail more than 1,000 times in the last 12 months. I have, almost certainly, evoked the same divinely-touched chalice, rightly celebrated in Arthurian legend, in some inappropriate context. We are all guilty… Grail imagery occurs with astonishing frequency in the scholarly press. Somewhere in the medical literature, I suspect, lurks a paper about the holy grail of hip replacement.”

This is a good story on the Holy Grail pandemic. Unless you’re actually searching for the cup Jesus allegedly drank out of on the cross, King Arthur style, then you should find a better phrase.

“Ten years later [in 1978], Stephen J. Lippard, then at Columbia University but currently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, put the first holy grail into a research article in an ACS journal when he wrote a paper on how platinum antitumor complexes interact with polynucleotides and kill cancer cells. “As with the Holy Grail of medieval legend, the joy thus far has been in the searching,” Lippard wrote.

Since then, holy grails in chemical research have been steadily on the rise. Including Lippard’s, three holy grails appeared in ACS journals in the 1970s, and five could be found in the 1980s. During the 1990s, 39 research articles in ACS journals made mention of a holy grail, and since 2000, 169 research articles invoked the sacred goblet. A SciFinder search shows this trend of chemists gravitating toward grails holds true for non-ACS journals as well.”

At the end of the day we’ll never get rid of cliches going forward

A journalist has been researching cliches. Which might sound a bit like a cigarette company researching the harm caused by nicotine. But this journo, Chris Pash, came up with the following as the most (over)used cliches in journalism

1. At the end of the day

2. Split second

3. About face

4. Unsung heroes

5. Outpouring of support

6. Last-ditch effort

7. Concerned residents

He also makes this statement:

Writers in particular genres tend to reach for particular cliches. Book reviewers, for example, favour “compelling” and “masterful”as well as the made-up word “unputdownable”, whereas travel writers show an over-dependence on “paradise”, “must-see” and “best-kept secret”.

Which is true for any profession. We’ve all got our own jargon and favourite terminology. One of my favourite media release cliches was “key strategy” – which is both weaselly, buzzwordy, and slightly tautologous. Perfect cliche fodder. It almost always came with the modifier “one of our” (and the accompanying pluralisation of strategy) – just to show that we weren’t nailed down to a single idea.

Pash manages the Dow Jones Factiva Database, which stores all the content from about 25,000 major news outlets and magazines. He ran searches on the material for particular phrases, like “at the end of the day” and identified the list above as the most commonly used cliches.

But, at the end of the day, nobody really needs to write “at the end of the day” do they?

Pash attributes the soul-crushing dominance of “at the end of the day” at least partly to its frequent appearance in direct quotes, particularly those given by politicians. “They use it almost as punctuation,” he says.

Being aware of the cliches you use is good. Because cliches make for tired writing, and thus, bad communication. As soon as a phrase becomes a cliche it has lost its magic.

Some words to remove from your vocabulary

I haven’t updated my blacklist for a long time. But that’s ok. Because the head of one of America’s ailing media conglomerates has spent his time (that probably should have been used bailing out the company) writing a list of 119 words his employees are no longer allowed to use.

Here are some of them (and here are the rest).

  • “Flee” meaning “run away”
  • “Good” or “bad” news
  • “Laud” meaning “praise”
  • “Seek” meaning “look for”
  • “Some” meaning “about”
  • “Two to one margin” . . . “Two to one” is a ratio, not a margin. A margin is measured in points. It’s not a ratio.
  • “Yesterday” in a lead sentence
  • “Youth” meaning “child”
  • 5 a.m. in the morning
  • After the break
  • After these commercial messages
  • Bare naked
  • Behind bars
  • Behind closed doors
  • Behind the podium (you mean lecturn) [sic]
  • Best kept secret
  • Campaign trail
  • Clash with police
  • Close proximity
  • Complete surprise
  • Completely destroyed, completely abolished, completely finished or any other completely redundant use
  • Death toll
  • Definitely possible
  • Going forward
  • Gunman, especially lone gunman
  • In a surprise move
  • In harm’s way
  • In other news
  • In the wake of (unless it’s a boating story)
  • Incarcerated
  • Informed sources say . . .

So in summary, avoid redundancy and cliche. But what about you – what words do you think should be taken out the back and shot? I’d say anybody over the age of 35 saying “funky” – I do not think that word means what they think it means…

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