We Wave A Lot; Perhaps We Should Stem The Tide

Do a search and you’ll see that we’ve recently talked or written about:

– “A wave of” foreigners joining the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

– “A wave of” new voter ID laws.

– “A wave of” protests across the nation following the death of Michael Brown.

Those examples are from the last few weeks. In the past year, according to the Library, we’ve ridden the “wave” phrase at least 71 times on the air. To be sure, there have been many times we’ve talked about “a wave of” your smartphone or “a wave of” water. But there have also been waves of attacks, of violence and of refugees, to cite a few. A search of the phrase “a wave of” on NPR.org, which brings in blog posts , other Web text and guests’ language, produces 154 results from the past year.

A crusty editor who hates clichés once told me that they do occasionally have their place if there’s just no better word or phrase to use. But as Oxford Dictionaries warns, clichés “tend to annoy people, especially if they’re overused.”

Chip Scanlan, then with Poynter, is among many who have wryly observed it’s wise to “avoid clichés like the plague.”

Former Detroit Free Press development editor Joe Grimm has suggested they be used sparingly and only “when they fit the story precisely.”

What should you do if you feel a wave (or some other cliché) coming on? First, stop and ask if it’s really a phrase that applies to the situation. Then, as with our guidance about avoiding labels, consider substituting a fact. How many foreigners have joined ISIS? How many refugees have crossed the border? How many bombings have there been?

Now that I’ve opened this can of worms, I’ll stop fanning the flames, give it a rest and call it a day.

(Memmos; Oct. 22, 2014)

October 22, 2014

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