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Friday, February 29, 2008

Body of Work

If you want to understand how nauseating a trite expression can be, just listen to sports people evaluating their own teams if coaches or teams and players if analysts. It will not be long before you run into "body of work," the most nauseating trite expression I have encountered in my life, easily eclipsing "think outside the box," which, at least, deals with a not easily expressed concept. Something like "You need to take a fresh look at this" doesn't convey what "think outside the box" does. Something like "I advise you to abandon your preconceived views when approaching such-and-such" comes much closer. Another possibility might be, "I advise you to abandon conventional wisdom when considering this problem." The problem with this last is that it contains a trite expression itself.

Some may wonder (I did) whether I should be calling these things cliches. Well, I entered "cliche" in the little box at the upper right corner of Mozilla Firefox and used the Merriam dictionary search engine for an answer and got "a trite phrase or expression" and "a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation." I popped in "trite" and got "hackneyed or boring from much use : not fresh or original." In short, there is little difference between the two terms though I would say that "cliche" fits better than "trite" for "thinking outside the box" while the reverse seems more applicable to "body of work."

What does a sports person mean by a "team's body of work"? Usually he or she means just the record of the team -- whom they beat and by how much and who beat them and by how much. That's all. In this case, we have people who have discovered that they can seem quite bright (at least to themselves and their peers, who also talk this way) if they use this phrase. It is like "at the end of the day," which is another trite expression/cliche that helps to make you seem smart, or once did, I think. It is also used by sports people. It replaces, more or less, "in the last analysis." Their might be better paraphrases for this.

I recall always being confused by accounts of the concepts "trite" and "cliche" by my literature and writing teachers. Obviously, they wanted their charges to use fresh expressions or, more reasonably, characterize something familiar in a fresh way. In the back of my mind, I tended to see their objection to the use of trite expressions by the common person (namely undergraduates) as snobbish. I had fun telling fellow students, whom I deemed snobbish, that practically everything Shakespeare wrote is trite. They would, of course, look at me as if I were mad, and they were, of course, close to being right. Hey, if you aren't a bit of a mad man you have little chance of avoiding hackneyed ways of expressing oneself.

My fellow students once their astonishment passed would defend Shakespeare by saying that when he wrote things like "All the world's a stage..." and all the other great lines they weren't trite at the time. I pointed out that that made no difference since we who were reading Shakespeare were being required to read copious amounts of trite material. I have always liked being a bit mean to snobs though, if truth be told, I am a bit of a snob myself but about different things usually. The reality is, when it comes to reading Shakespeare, these "trite" expressions are very comforting. One knows one is in the presence of genius.

I have used "think outside of the box" on occasion when too tired to talk or write outside the box. Saying this reminds me of another very tiresome expresion, "walk the talk." There is nothing wrong with the concept of course. It is just a tiresome expression. The main reason to avoid cliches/trite expressions is that if you do there is a chance that what one says will be original or at least not beaten to death by others.

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8 Comments:

Blogger concerned citizen said...

The main reason to avoid cliches/trite expressions is that if you do there is a chance that what one says will be original or at least not beaten to death by others. That depends entirely on what your motivation is & who you are talking to. The reason trite phrases are so popular is that people readily understand them. In my activism concerns, I spend a lot of time talking to people on the street. I want to get certain points across. Being able to throw words & phrases out that are understood quickly is a valuable time saving tool. & trite phrases stick in the mind as much as advertising ditties.

2:29 AM

 
Blogger Thr Language Guy said...

Concerned, your point is well-taken. However, the use of such expressions that tap into what people already know is that thought is short circuited. People will not as easily challenge the familiar and normally they should. This is a troublesome feature of what you say you are doing.

6:36 AM

 
Blogger concerned citizen said...

Right, I understand that, completely.

I don't want to trivialize human dignity by any means. I totally believe in what I'm trying to achieve. It's NOT a product like say oatmeal...to be sold by touting, "It's the right thing to do." (I've always hated that commercial)

There is a balance of course & I am finding words are of utmost importance, they are my most effective tool at the moment, since I am the spokesperson for the group. As we get more attention, I find myself everyday talking to the media, local authorities, politicians & the people on the street we represent.
Often on the spur.
(You would have to understand the dynamics of a small community, to realize this happens)
I don't want to let any opportunity pass to get a point across.

In the beginning I went with the name, "Concerned Citizens of Coquille" because when speaking in public or writing letters to an editor, I realized, concerned, & citizen, & Coquille, were interchangeable & I could use them together or individually, to mean us in particular & people in general. That was calculated on my part, & I feel it was affective. So there is a bit of advertising there. But, I feel it is ethical.

Now I am inserting the term "Human Dignity group" in my conversations. For one thing, that is how I want us to be represented & I also want it to stick in the ear of people around here...when they hear human dignity they they think of us.
I also want people to really think about human dignity. If they question the term or ask me what I mean, I am more then happy to engage them in a deeper philosophical conversation.

I believe ethics, honestly, & accoutability are important for the survival of the group. It is always on my mind. & I try to preserve it.

Sorry if I've gone on too long, but this whole subject is fascinating & very important & real to me at the moment. I really do value your input on this.

10:21 AM

 
Blogger Thr Language Guy said...

There is real merit to your original name, in part because "concerned citizen", while it doesn't particularly designate you, it is not scary to anyone. It also is alliterative and has the nice abbreviation, CCC. The "human dignity" notion is off-putting, I think. That could mean that you are for people dying in a dignified way, which scares hell out of lots of people and ticks off Christians a lot. I think using a positive term like your first and letting the content of your message be the persuader is the best way to go.

Your recognition that how you say what you say is very i8mportant is right on. There are often lots of different ways to say something and how it is said will have an effect on how persuasive it is. When you listen to very bright people like either of the Clintons or Obama use language, you are seing language arts in action. Obama's wife is smart enough but isn't as experienced. Her gaffe in regard to being proud of the country suggests this.

5:11 PM

 
Blogger concerned citizen said...

Well, I don't think it's such bad PR in the current political climate to tick off Christians...It's not like I'm advocating something horrible like Satanism.

As far as the term "human dignity group" I never considered it in the way you present it. That gives me pause to think, though. Now I want to say to people, "What does human dignity mean to you?"

1:04 AM

 
Blogger Amy said...

Please tell me how to send you an email... I have a question about a touchy subject involving a medical gatekeeper who denied me service because she did not like the way I talked. Believe me, I was not swearing at her but she thought I was. I KNOW she's wrong but I need to have a linguist help me with WHY she is wrong and what to do about it. It's moronic politically correct stuff whereby an INDIVIDUAL can prevent access to care due to her PERSONAL TASTE. Very scarey stuff.

11:18 PM

 
Blogger Nina said...

I become irritated when I hear overused expressions such as, "thinking outside the box," "pushing the envelope," "the cutting edge," "24/7," "let's make sure we're on the same page," (what book are we reading?), "It was a fun read," "as we speak," and, "I just wanted to give you a heads up." Those expressions have been overused for ten years or longer and I would be pleased not hear them or read them again.

When I catch myself using an overused expression, it alerts me that I am not thinking before writing or speaking. When I consider what some of the current expressions mean, some silly images pass through my mind.

5:21 PM

 
Blogger Nina said...

"Thinking Outside the Box." Perhaps a rephrasing that would not make The Language Guy sick to his stomach would be "original thinking."

5:34 PM

 

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