Tuesday, September 11, 2012

If it's a cliche, get rid of it

   Cliche': (1) a trite phrase of expression; also: the idea expressed by it; (2) a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation; (3) something that has become overly familiar or commonplace.
     My friend Ken wrote on Facebook that he had his "first week of work under my belt."
    My friend Gil wrote in the newspaper that "the visiting Tigers ... already had a game ... under their belts."
     Why, I ask, under their belts? Are they hiding something?
     I'm picking on my friends because I can. One is one of the best sports copy editors I've worked with in a long career. The other is one of my favorite columnists, a guy who requires very little editing.
      Cliches, my daughter reminds me, are a part of everyday speech. Unfortunately -- in my opinion -- they are a part of everyday newspaper/Internet stories and blogs.
      One of my goals as a sports copy editor for 40-something years was to eliminate cliches. OK, it was more than a goal. It was part of my curmudgeonly, obsessive side.
      So I don't want to see "under by belt," or someone being "given the nod," or someone being inked"(signed will do every time). Pitchers don't toss games; they're throwing the ball. You don't nab a victory; you nab criminals or animals. Just take a victory, or claim it, or earn it. Same for captured a win or a title (captured is one of the most overused verbs in sports journalism). Again, save it for criminals or animals.
        Teams aren't involved in contests; they are games. They don't trek places; they take trips. It's not intermission in football or basketball; it's halftime. Save intermission for the theater. Pitchers don't pitch frames; they pitch innings. They don't have three innings of work; three innings will do.
         Don't want people doing most of the heavy lifting. You can write they did most of the work, and that's no cliche'. 
         Those aren't buckets; it's not bucketball. It's not treys; it's 3-pointers. I know everyone camps out in the paint now; they used to be in the lane.
         I'm really tired, too, of reading about people stepping up.
         Birdies (in golf) aren't bagged; they're made. Saved the bagged for hunting.
         Don't want to see gridiron, or hardcourt, or diamond, or on the links, or references to gridders, cagers, flannel-clads, thinclads. Don't really need a biscuit in the basket (that's the old hockey cliche' for a goal).
         Quarterbacks, if you want the cliche', are signal-callers.
          This is '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s-type sportswriting. Still, I see many of these cliches in today's local newspaper and on the Internet and -- unbelievably -- in Sports Illustrated or Sporting News.
         I've got hundreds of them. Writers easily fall back on them. Even if you make note of it, it requires some discipline -- or maybe in my case, obsessiveness -- to avoid them.
          I think it clutters writing; it makes me want to stop reading. Frankly, it irritates me. My wife thinks it doesn't matter to the reader, who simply wants information or to be entertained or to read someone's opinion on a subject. 
          And here's one of my least favorite ones: Never looked back. I used to tell the young people I "coached" in sports journalism that if they wrote that phrase, they were not going to write for us again (I was kidding, but hopefully they got the point.)
          LSU took the lead and never looked back. The Yankees took the lead and never looked back. Does that mean the team never gave up the lead, never gave up the momentum, never ran into any trouble? Then write it that way, without the cliche'.
          If you're reading the game story, or you're thinking back on the game, you are looking back.
          But if you read this blog regularly, you'll know that looking back is one of the things I do best. 
           So, there you have my distaste for cliches. I delete them out of copy or change them because I think it improves the writing. It doesn't hurt the copy. Or maybe I do it because of personal preference. 
          Next time I will write about copy editing in sports in general. But for now, I'm happy to have gotten this view of cliches out from under my belt.           


  1. From Gary West, Fort Worth: Excellent, I think you took the blog to the next level.

  2. From Gerry Robichaux, former Shreveport Times sports editor: I just wanted to say that your latest blog really knocked one out of the park. It was right on target. You really told your readers how the cow ate the cabbage. It hit the nail on the head.