Jewish World Review April 19, 2004 / 29 Nissan, 5764

David Grimes

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Brits learn grammar from Americans | If you are, like, wondering, like, what the most overused cliché is at this moment in time or whatever, it's, like, basically, to be perfectly honest with you, "at the end of the day."

Demonstrating the same unfathomable taste in clichés that they have in food, the British Plain English Campaign has declared "at the end of the day" the most abused and overused phrase in the English language, despite the fact that American teens never utter the words but treat "like" like a form of punctuation. The poll sought out the opinion of 5,000 "English-lovers" from 70 countries. ("Throw another shrimp on the barbie" did not even make the cut, suggesting that Australians are not contributing to the world's cliché glut as much as they should.)

If the poll accomplishes nothing else, it demonstrates that one man's cliché is another man's enigma. For example, one of the most egregious clichés in the English-speaking world is, apparently, "diamond geezer." I'm not exactly sure what a diamond geezer is, but I wouldn't be surprised if Sarasota is home to 90 percent of the world's supply. (In local parlance, a diamond geezer would be someone who chooses his nursing home on the basis of whether or not it has valet parking.)

While I urge people to use the term "diamond geezer" as much as possible in casual conversation (some people might think you're talking about a new rock band), I agree with the folks at British Plain English that the next person who utters the phrase "24/7" should be whomped over the head with Webster's New World College Dictionary. (I would recommend using the Fourth Edition as the binding seems stouter.)

Unfortunately, British Plain English overlooks many clichés that also have the power to provoke listeners into committing acts of lexicography-related violence. One such phrase is, of course, "low-carb." Thanks to the fact that everybody in America is federally mandated to be on the Atkins diet, virtually all food products, up to and including live cows, are advertised as low-carb. Worse yet, you'll be sitting at your desk nibbling on a Saltine when a co-worker, who is stuffing a whole stick of bacon-wrapped butter into his face, wipes his mouth on his sleeve and gurgles, "That's not very low-carb. Don't you care what you put in your body?"

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The media, bless our lazy, unimaginative little hearts, probably contribute more to the world's cliché surplus than any other group, teenagers included. Some of the more irritating examples:

  • Major breakthrough. Is there such a thing as a minor breakthrough?

  • Clean bill of health. How about a slightly soiled bill of health that could be made whiter and brighter with Clorox 2?

  • Campaign trail. Where is this trail and why aren't there any cowboys or herds of cattle on it? Come to think of it, adding a Wild West element to the numbing stories that are usually filed from the campaign trail might not be a bad idea.

  • Threw his hat into the ring. Where is this ring and why do people seeking elected office feel compelled to throw their perfectly good hats into it? Also, since almost nobody wears a hat anymore, should the ring be bulldozed to make room for condominiums?

  • Slated. Are there people out there who still communicate by writing things on slate? Sounds awfully slow, but probably less expensive and more dependable than computers.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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