How to Write Good Clean Prose! by Good Clean Zen (Here’s what not to do.)

CLICHES
Use “the poster child for [whatever]” Yes! Let’s put that on a poster & get people contributing!

Use  “…a Perfect Storm of [whatever]” Maybe that book & the movie based on it should have been called “The Worse Luck Storm.” Then we might have been spared this phrase that just hangs on and on…

And…”a place at the table” Isn’t that special! Kinda reminds you of Norman Rockwell, doesn’t it?

And…”send a message,” which may refer to anything from throwing a chair through a window to “taking a knee”. Maybe you should try those things called….words?

And…”navigating a minefield.” This should be used only if you are in actual physical danger of getting blown up.

And this:  “every tool in my toolbox” Again: This is an inheritance from “Mad Men”. This time, from an actual episode. Of course, we are talking about brain tools here, not actual physical tools!

And “skill set.” Wow. Those geniuses discovered a way to say “skills” with one extra word!

But wait! There’s more! Another way of saying “It’s an area of my expertise”! You can say “It’s in my wheelhouse.” Who the hell started using this phrase?? Let’s find him & twist his nose really, really hard. Maybe that would get his brain in gear. Or change the channel. Celebrities picked the phrase up, pressed it to their bosoms & bolted out of the room with it.” Oooo-kay. Baseball. Boats. Hollywood celebs. It’s all good. Not.

Let’s not forget “It is what it is!” That’s the slacker’s motto. You really want to join that tribe?

And “on steroids.” We know you just mean “really fast.” So why not say it?

Last but not least,,,”boots on the ground.” What? They only need boots? Not the soldiers with feet in them?

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS…To Avoid
“iconic” Following in the wake of “special,” “super,” “awesome” and “so cool”* even brands of peanut butter and hot dogs get to be iconic. How democratic! Turn on the radio and see if you can hold your breath long enough for “iconic” to be said. Bet you can!

–> But wait! Good news everyone!** “Iconic” is rapidly being replaced by “eponymous!!” The spiky twig of a word is being rolled over by a nice round snowball of a word. And we get one extra lovely syllable, too!

“creating a space”, “safe space” “homage” Listening to NPR as I work on this list, all three of these words & phrases were just gushed by someone promoting a Museum of Ice Cream. Ice cream will bring us together! We can meet diverse (but probably rather fat) people and talk about ice cream with them! That’s the way the world should work! Or, how about this plan? Let’s not, and say we did!

The word “louche”: I contend that no one actually knows what this word means. But it may be super cool (see above) because it rhymes with…that other word. And if you use it with a straight face you are that other word. It popped into life in a review of a “Mad Men” episode & took off running…

The double “is”. Apparently this originated years ago with radio call screeners, who asked people to say “My question is…” Of course the callers bumbled & two “is’s” showed up! And then, within a year or two, it jumped the pond! Tony Blair used it. Now the Brits–and who knows who else?– are infected with Is-is-itis.

LAUGHING AT THE PAST
Any mention of “flying cars” (the desire or hope for, and the disappointing lack thereof), “Reefer Madness”, the anti-pot film, and “duck and cover” drills. And no, housewives in the 50’s didn’t cook in white high heels, or serve jello molds with every meal. (Haw Haw! We’re so much smarter now.)

PLAIN OLD ILLITERACY
“ground zero” This phrase means where the explosion takes or took or may take place. It’s used by the illiterate as a synonym for “square one” which is the place where you start your plan of action.

“Take a listen” and “he/she is looking to…” The former is common and the latter is lazy. “Listen” is not a noun. A “look” is a noun, as well as a command verb. “Looking to” is a cheap substitute for some word more exact in meaning: “planning to,” or “intending to” or “hoping to.”

“from the get-go” This just sounds childish. (Go Speed Racer! Please go. Just. Go. Home.)

Ending a sentence with “at,” as in “Where do you work at?” I’ve heard school teachers, college profs and scientists use this form. Friends, the ’60’s are over. Why preserve the worst aspects of them?

Using “amazing” and “incredible” incorrectly. “Amazing” does not mean “prettier” or “beautiful.” No, really. It doesn’t. The person who uses “amazing” as a compliment may be covering up something he thinks is appalling or disappointing. The ubiquitous use of this word as a compliment started with a T.V. show called “Extreme Makeover,” where somehow, in spite of the dramatic changes in the winning lady, the hosts weren’t allowed to say that she was “actually a lot better looking now”, “bigger-busted” or “thinner.”) “Incredible” means “unbelievable.” Neither of these terms is necessarily positive or complimentary.

“Like”: This word is used by people under 35 to start sentences and used constantly within sentences as punctuation. This is just….so….WRONG. And it’s another dried up, flaky remnant of 1960’s speech. (See above.) Where did this usage start? My guess is with Maynard G. Krebbs in “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” a long, long time ago.

SINS OF THE WEATHERMEN
“It looks like a war zone here!” Common phrase used by meteorologists to describe areas of destruction after a hurricane. Now let’s think. Could it go the other way? Ever heard someone say that a war zone looked like a hurricane hit it? No? Why not?

“Is this the calm before the storm?” Again, a common phrase of meteorologists. Uh…yes. When there’s no storm, it’s calm.

I’m just going to mention the use of “the white stuff” and “the wet stuff” as synonyms for snow and rain. When they say that, does it make meteorologists feel…what? Cool? Or experiencing “the low temp stuff”?

REALLY STUPID BUMPERSTICKERS
Years ago I had a bumper strip on my car that said “Nuke Gay Whales For Jesus”. The writer mischievously intended to offend as many people as possible, but only made everyone laugh. Today we’d probably get the word “Vegan” in there somewhere. Yes, it was stupid–but clever!

…but how about “Books not Bombs“? Exactly what that means is a mystery. If you’re reading a lot you can’t be dropping bombs? And aren’t there a number of books on bomb building? Best not to even try to analyze that.

If you can’t trust me with a choice, why would you trust me with a child?” You can almost hear the “Nya, nya, nya!” on the end of that slogan. You had your choice, to go into the drugstore & buy contraception. You kinda blew that one. Right, honey?

The doggie paw print with “Who Rescued Who?” and for even bigger idiots who wish to put a fine point on it: “My Rescue Dog Rescued Me!” Pulled you out of a snowbank, did it? Or did it–pathetic as this sounds!–give you one miserable Reason For Living?

IN CONCLUSION…
This simple shortcut: Avoid saying or writing anything on this list! Resolve not to listen to any of them either! Good luck with that.

* Oprah’s favorite phrase
** Professor Farnsworth’s favorite phrase

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1 Response to How to Write Good Clean Prose! by Good Clean Zen (Here’s what not to do.)

  1. David says:

    Empty the grease trap and get pure water?

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