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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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Michelle Obama, the word "really", and the Right Wing

Poor Michelle Obama made the mistake of saying “For the first time in my adult lifetime I’m really proud of my country,”according to the Daily Cardinal, the campus nespaper of the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Interestingly many other sites have dropped the "really" from what she said. The Boston Hearld dropped the "really" from her sentence.

The problem is that she said two nearly identical things in Madison, Wisconsin that day according to the Boston Globe. In one it seems as if there is no really. However, in that tape there is a glitch between "I'm" and "proud." Check it out. Whether the video has been clipped by some trickster or not I can't say, but there is a glitch. Perhaps somone with some good sound editing software can comment on this. In another case, she clearly says "really." So, your political position will, it seems, dictate which version you decide is the "authentic" one.

Joe Scarborough, being a conservative Super Patriot, of the Morning Joe show on MSNBC was clearly distressed, wondering idiotically if the "really" in her sentence was all that important to the meaning. His lovely and clearly much more intelligent sidekick, Mika, tried to explain what Ms. Obama had meant.

The aptly named Hot Air web site took her to task, titling the story Michelle Obama hasn’t been proud of America in at least 26 years? On and on we go as the right wing revises the language of the left of center as it pleases, hoping to create, I'm sure, a mini-Swift Boat controversay surounding Ms. Obama.

Yes, Joe, the "really" really counts. The sentence
I really like you.
is completely consistent with
I like you.
I am really proud of my country today.
is fully consistent with
I am proud of my country.
To anyone but a dummox like Scarborough and other Right Wing ninnies, these are indisputable facts.

During the Vietnam War, I was not proud of what my country was doing. In fact, I was incensed by it. If someone asked if I was proud of my country in general, I would have to have thought a minute since there was an active Civil Rights movement going on that was running into Southern resistance. Am I proud of America now? Not so much. Any country that can elect a cowboy like Bush is not worth of a lot of respect. However I am proud of what has been going on in the Democratic party where we have had a closely fought battle between an African-American and a White woman that has been reasonably civilized so far. I do not expect this to continue. Hillary got crushed in Wisconsin yesterday. I take this to mean that the Democrats (and Independents and Republicans) who voted in that primary have decided that we Democrats can win with him. That has been with many of us the key question.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

What counts as a mistake?

In this week's ESPN the Magazine, Stu Scott, an ESPN broadcast personage and writer says of Roger Clemens that "even if it is shown that he did do steriods, I would still have him in [the Houston Astro's "mini"] camp [as an instructor], because making a mistake shouldn't make you a pariah." The mistake would have been taking steroids and human growth hormone in an effort to allow him to train more effectively and thereby increase his strength to a degree not possible with normal weight training.

Now there are mistakes of all sorts. I suspect I will have a spelling mistake in this blog or make some grammatical error. These would not be intended and would count as mistakes. Should they be the result of an inability to spell the word correctly or not know that the grammatical error was an error, one of you would surely chastise me. After all, am I not The Language Guy?

So, we have unintentional mistakes made out of, say, negligence or ignorance. Let us suppose, however, that some young woman is induced to try ecstasy (X) at some club even though she knows that it may not be the smartest thing in the world to do and then manages to get inveigled to go to a young man's apartment where she has sex though in her right mind she would never have done this. Suppose further, that she gets pregnant. I think one could fairly describe her decision to take X as a mistake, an error in judgment. However, if she were to routinely take X at parties and routinely end up the evening having sex with some guy would we say that she has made a mistake? Surely something one does multiple times, knowing it to be a problematic action, shouldn't be described as a mistake or even a bunch of mistakes. She would have crossed over into the domain of irresponsible behavior.

Similarly, calling Roger Clemens' steroid and HGH use over several years "a mistake" seems to me to be a gross misuse of the term. This is a not uncommon occurrence these days. Hardly a week goes by when some young man, often an athlete, does something that violates the rules of the NCAA or gets in a bar fight or sexually or physically abuses some woman. Usually, the young man's defenders call the actions a mistake, hoping I think to minimize the offense.

I shall cut this a bit short (for me). I am struggling to overcome the aftermath of a hip replacement. I think that the hip replacement was quite successful. However, I managed somehow to screw of the knee on that leg and my spirits are a bit low. Mostly because I suspect I did something I shouldn't have done and should have known not to do. Such is life for the mistake prone elderly man.

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