Today we’re going to start the weekly blog with a philately lesson. In traditional stamp making, a cliché was an individual unit consisting of the design of a single stamp, combined with others to make up a printing plate. Clichés as we have come to know them are the kiss of death for good writing.
Jargon, another word with French origin, derives from a phrase meaning the chattering of birds. Meaningless jargon is another cause of death for your writing. It is the kind of stuff politicians use or what we see in brochures.
We fall into these two hollow literary traps for three reasons.
1. Lack of passion or laziness. If we don’t feel connected to our writing or we’re in a hurry to meet a publishing deadline, we tend to go for the first phrase that pops into our head.
So we say: I envied Ilse. She lived in a luxurious penthouse in Hyde Park. Instead of: Ilse’s white tiles blinded me, as did her taste in fake Picassos and flokati rugs.
2. No first-hand knowledge. Sometimes when we don’t understand our material – either because we have no intimate knowledge of it or we have not researched it deeply enough – we stay with safe and acceptable description.
So we say: The average temperature in subtropical Phalaborwa is 35 degrees Celsius as the incoming troops were told in their orientation brochure. Instead of: Don’t expect shade in hell. That’s what the sersant was screaming at them. Benjamin was just a troepie – he didn’t know if he was going to throw up or pass out.
3. Caution or timidity. When we don’t wish to upset a group of people – sometimes known as polite society – or are too scared to be bold and fearless, we use innocuous and politically correct language that says nothing.
So we say: Deborah did not care for her son’s lifestyle, but made allowances for it as best she could. She was worried about the December holidays. Instead of: Deb’s son was buying his’n’his Chihuahuas with someone called Kyle. This was going to crap all over her Christmas seating plan.
When we use jargon or clichés, we create fuzziness around the image or emotion we’re trying to get across. Be as specific as you can be and authentic as you can be. Every word must have your blood in it – anger, irony, admiration, etc. Don’t make it look like everyone else’s.
by Anthony Ehlers for Writers Write