A database specialist exposes the worst violators
Some day your editor is going to point out the use of an expression in your copy and say: “Let’s scrap that. It’s the 3rd most-used cliché in the nation and we’ve already used it 1,266 times in our paper this year and it’s only August.”
For this courtesty, you can thank–or curse–a guy in Sydney, Australia, named Chris Pash.
Pash is an executive with Factiva, the database company that loads news articles from 10,000 sources, including 1,600 American newspapers. A while back, he and bunch of former Factiva colleagues would nominate their “worst cliché” of the month, and Pash would go to the database to determine the most frequently used cliche.
From there it was inevitable that Pash would take the leading 55 cliches and develop a detailed index which charted how often each cliché was used and which publications used that cliché the most.
The envelope, please.
The winner, among U.S. media, is: “At the end of the day,” which our publications used 10,595 times during the first half of 2006–about 60 times a day.
The newspaper that led the nation in the use of “at the end of the day”: Third place, 99 uses: Los Angeles Times
We have a tie for the winner. With 135 uses–three times every four days–the winners are: Washington Post and New York Times.
If you’re being honest, you’ve got to admit that it would be great to have this information at hand, especially with a cliché like “at the end of the day,” which is probably used as often in a quote as it is within the writer’s syntax. It’s a cliché that poses as wisdom, yet delivers none.
“You can hear politicians say it all the time,” Pash said by phone from Sydney. “It gets annoying because you know the kiss-off is coming; it’s code for: ‘I’m about to say something irrelevant.'”
You can tell from Pash’s list of clichés that our English-speaking brothers across the ocean have somewhat different cliché sensibilities than we do. Among the list are: “a laugh a minute,” “all the way to the bank,” “bated breath,” “blazing inferno,” “call it a day,” “left at the altar,” “horror smash” (fatal traffic accident), “shrouded in mystery,” and “wipe the slate clean.”
(Had it been me doing the picking, I would have submitted an expression I hear way too often, especially on the sports pages. You can’t open a sports section or listen to sports talk radio without hearing that a formerly slumping athlete has recovered his “swagger.”
(During a three month period in 2001, “swagger” came up 938 times on Factiva. During the same period this year, it had 2,077 appearances. The term “his swagger” rose from 28 to 102. Maybe it’s that Johnny Depp movie, or all those Viagra commercials, but we’ve got quite enough swaggering going on these days.)
Okay, back to the topic at hand: The leading U.S. clichés, with six-month usage stats in parenthesis, follows:
In the black (4,161) : The improbable winner: Grand Forks Herald, 142
In the red (3,907) Winner: Oakland Tribune, 59
Level playing field (2,587)
Time and again (2,359)
About face (1,269)
Wealth of experience (1,085)
Split second (1,072)
Time is running out (1,025 )
Outpouring of support (818)
Last-ditch effort (726)
Think outside the box (724)
Time after time (687)
Okay, you’ve been warned. With my wealth of experience, let me assure you that time is running out on reporters who think they can use clichés as a last-ditch effort to make their copy sweeter. Ladies and gents, we need an about-face on this maneuver. Time and again we fall into cliché hell. When, in truth, at the end of the day, the lesson is….the lesson is…oh hell, fill in your own cliché here.
Extracurricular Activities Department: I’m posting as a contributor to ex-L.A.Times staffer Kevin Roderick’s Los Angeles-centric web site, laobserved.com. The following post was inspired by the Mel Gibson DIU story. (I used “swaggering”! Couldn’t help it!)
‘I own Malibu': the stage play
July 31, 2006
Los Angeles ArtWorks Center for the Performing Arts
Dear Mr. Apathe,
Here, in answer to your telephone call earlier today, is the first number you requested I tackle for “I Own Malibu.” I am a little anxious about your plan to make the story of Mel Gibson’s arrest and reaction a “rollicking comedy,” as you put it, but as I said, I’ve got no steady income and I was flattered to be approached.
Here goes. The swaggering protagonist is sprawled on the front seat of his car staring at the flashlight of a deputy sheriff, when he begins to sing in a rebellious tone.
Officer I’m suspicious of your motives
Son, you’re messing with a star
A star of immense proportion
A star who doesn’t give a flying fortz who you are
Who are you to test my sobriety?
You must be some second-rate
Twerpy wimpy faggy phony errand boy
Sent by the Israel Consulate
GIBSON LEAPS FROM THE CAR AND CONTINUES SINGING
I own Malibu
What kind of Jew are you
To think the Zionist conspiracy could apply to moi?
That’s not among the lessons I learned from Pa
And tell Sugar Tits over there
She’ll never see me in my underwear
I got Christian folks to see and better things to do
I own Malibu
THE SHERIFF’S DEPUTY ATTEMPTS TO MAKE GIBSON TAKE A FIELD SOBRIETY TEST, BUT GIBSON BREAKS AWAY AND SINGS TO THE AUDIENCE:
If God wanted Jews to share Malibu with me
He’d have built them a settlement
He’d never countenance a Yid bringing my car to a skid
And asking me questions ’bout the speed I went
Jew-boy fess up to what’s at play
You’re pissed that Israel can’t get its way
So you take it out on a superior race
Who can remind you in Aramaic as he spits it in your face
THE SHERIFF’S DEPUTY WRESTLES GIBSON INTO A PAIR OF HANDCUFFS, BUT GIBSON, HIS BODY ANCHORED, CONTINUE TO POUR OUT HIS HEART
I own Malibu
And I can hold my liquor, too
In fact it makes me a truth-teller, helps me connect the dots
Between the Protocols of Elders and the world’s trouble spots
What kind of Jew are you?
You can’t imagine what I’m gonna do
I’m gonna be more self-righteous than Angelina and Brad
I’m gonna fill the Hollywood Reporter with self-serving ads
Catch the next jet to Jerusalem and meet up with Dad
Enlist a thousand celebrities in the Million Jew March
THE SHERIFF’S DEPUTY REMOVES THE HANDCUFFS AND, WITH ANOTHER DEPUTY, BEGINS TO SHOVE GIBSON INTO THE BACK OF THE PATROL CAR, BUT GIBSON RESISTS LONG ENOUGH TO PROCLAIM:
And after all that, Deputy Kike,
The unwashed masses will like
Me a lot more than they like you
‘Cause I . . . own . . .Ma-li-bu
GIBSON’S HEAD DISAPPEARS INTO THE CAR
Please let me know if we’re heading in the right direction.