31 May 2012

All Things Considered meet After Due Consideration

This is Tony Miksak with a few Words on Books...

"All things considered" is a news show. It's also a cliche, "a hackneyed phrase which refers to the ultimate summing up of something when all aspects of it have been taken into account..."

I found "all things considered" alongside 1499 other cliches in Betty Kirkpatrick's 1996 book Cliches, Over 1500 Phrases Explored and Explained. Until I found the phrase between "all systems go" and "all things to all men" I hadn't realized the title of my favorite national news program was a soldier in the army of ideas that have "lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse."

Kirkpatrick believes the phrase "all things considered" first became popular about 125 years ago. It may have sounded fresh and newsy at NPR headquarters, but the successful overuse of the phrase now makes it sound rather passe.

Before a phrase becomes a cliche it has to be used widely and often. It may start life as a fresh way of expressing a well-known thought. "Once Upon a Time" it felt good to say "Have a nice day!" to strangers in a store; now when we use that cliche people throw up, or cover their ears with shopping bags, or pass laws against it.

"Have a nice day" grates like a lemon, and if I've just invented a new phrase, please use it until that becomes just another cliche.

I became intensely aware how much of our daily speech is expressed in cliched form when learning to speak Italian. We "have a nice day" and they – well they enjoy something along the lines of una bella giornata – not exactly a cliche, just a way of speaking. Not that Italians don't use cliches -- of course they do – but to transform ours into theirs – well, "reinventing the wheel" is "a hard act to follow." Actually, it's usually impossible.

We are "on the wagon" when we suspend drinking. Italians don't have that phrase – they have the words for "on" and "wagon" but not the phrase. They simply say sobrio or sober. It's much more fun to look for original Italian cliches – or more politely, idioms.

In Rome it rains buckets (catinelle), not cats and dogs. Here you "look like the cat that swallowed the canary." In Italy that would be putting on a foxy face (furbina). Either way, you're a bit smug, aren't you? In Italy to "put your hand on the fire" is to speak for someone; "a flower on the lips" is to speak confidentially.

Language is nothing more than an agreed-upon arrangement of sounds and letters that communicate thoughts. If our words and phrases always were new, language would fail us. We are forced to use the well-known tropes of everyday speech. What's new is how we arrange those familiar sounds and letters.

A professor once told his class, "If it's you, it's true. If it's you, it's new." When you speak for yourself you can't help being fresh and different. You lose your way when you only inhabit other people's thoughts. It's damn hard work to be fresh and authentic.

It's "an open secret" and "part of life's rich pattern" "from the cradle to the grave" "in the fullness of time." I certainly "hope we will always be friends." "I'll be in touch" because "a rose by any other name" is either "a fate worse than death" or "a feather in one's cap." Or not. We'll have to "wait and see" about that one.


Cliches: Over 1500 Phrases Explored and Explained by Betty Kirkpatrick. St. Martin's Griffen paperback $16.99. ISBN 0312198442. This edition published January 15, 1999.

From the publisher: Betty Kirkpatrick is a writer and lexicographer. Editor of both the Bloomsbury Thesaurus and Roget's Thesaurus, she was formerly editor of the Chambers Twentieth-Century Dictionary. She lives in Scotland.

Here -- try on some business-style cliches for size.

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