Rhymes with a dog’s fake balls

I arrived at my first job as a newspaper reporter, at the Herald and News in Livermore, California, without a college education, no training in journalism, no clue what I was doing.

My only credential was fewer than two years as a copyboy at the New York Times.

When the other city reporter in the newsroom talked about AP style and structuring a story like a pyramid, he might as well have been speaking ancient Egyptian.

The first compliment I received from a relieved city editor was when I wrote a lead saying something happened at “the eleventh hour.”

It seems to be a natural progression for journalists – to learn and unlearn clichés.

But new ones keep popping up like pimples on a teenager. The term “tired cliché” is redundant.

Many of them spring from sports – thanks a lot, Crash Davis – and politics. The vocabulary often overlaps.

Most are the stock-in-trade of the 24-hour yak cycle and leach onto the page, or vice versa.

Regardless, these words, phrases and foul fashions pollute the media landscape.

Here are some that have been making the rounds for too long:

  • Massive – The most overused and misused word for anything big.
  • Horrific – Hypes everything considered a mite worse than bad.
  • Icon, iconic – To qualify, someone or something should be required to live longer than the warranty on a toaster.
  • Boldface name – Tabloid trash gone mainstream.
  • Legacy – The concern of every boldface name over the age of 12.
  • Back in the day – Applied to anything that happened before the first iPhone went on sale.
  • At the end of the day – 11:59 p.m.?
  • 24/7 – Every day, every week, forever and ever.
  • This is not your father’s … – I’m young. You’re old. Die already.
  • Outlier – Came out of nowhere and seems to be everywhere. Headline the other day on the New York Times website: Bernie Sanders, an Outlier? The Senator Begs to Differ
  • Turned ugly – The movie was great until James Holmes showed up.
  • Christmas came early – Winning lottery ticket found under a bush in a trailer park in July.
  • Outside the box – Not necessarily preferable to what’s inside the box.
  • New paradigm – What’s wrong with the old paradigm?
  • Zeitgeist – Englisch sprechen, bitte.
  • Small sample size – Get back to us when you have a significant sample size.
  • Throw under the bus – A cartoon image to substitute for betrayal or treachery.
  • Elephant in the room – Can’t see it. Is it pink?
  • The smartest person in the room – Usually a remedial classroom.
  • Eye test – What we see.
  • Eyeballs – What we see with.
  • Optics – Best left to scientists and physicians.
  • Surreal – Dali is dead, folks.
  • Bizarre – Not a place to buy trinkets in Turkey, nor an apt description of a deadly flash flood.
  • Analytics – The turf of the nerd who may or may not be the smartest person in the room.
  • Agree, disagree – When did every conversation become a fucking debate?
  • Good question – Thanks, but I’d prefer you send a check.
  • Talk about – First two words from a reporter without a good question.
  • What were you thinking when – First five words from a reporter without a good question.
  • Red meat – Tossed into or out of the cages of politicians.
  • Horse race – Polling the rubes in the grandstand as they watch politicians run.
  • Oxygen – What the elephant breathes in, not sucks out of a room.
  • Fellow countryman – Mark Antony and Lyndon Johnson adored redundancies.
  • Mount Rushmore – Place where American sports talkers chisel four jocks to replace dead presidents.
  • Wildfires – Used to be called forest fires when a forest was burning. Not anymore. Not wild enough.
  • Storylines – Writing your lead before anything happens.
  • Disclaimer – I really am biased, but now that I’ve told you, I can write or say something biased because my boss is too lazy or incompetent to take me off the story.
  • Spoiler alert – If you don’t want to know what’s at the end of this sentence, go elsewhere. Will do. Thanks.
  • Headlines that end in a question mark – What the hell are you asking me for?
  • Listicles – Rhymes with another made-up word: neuticles.

One thought on “Rhymes with a dog’s fake balls

  1. Ken Becker has nailed the problem with all these cliches, which are overused and unimaginative. Ken is a superb editor and his advice is excellent.

    But, please let me rant about this: To me, one of the worst cliches is the word “icon”.

    I cannot tell you how much I hate “icon” and at the risk of being more verbose that Ken, here’s why: Everybody is an icon these days, it seems. To be an icon, you simply need to be somewhat famous or mildly praiseworthy.

    Remember, an icon is a painting, usually in an Orthodox church, often done on wood. That’s the main meaning.

    Yes, it is also, as The New Oxford says, “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something,” but these days everyone is an icon and everything is iconic. The word is so overused, it appears in newscast after newscast. Hardly an obituary goes by that doesn’t call someone an icon. But if everyone is an icon, no one is an icon.

    I think icon, when applied to a person or thing, ought to refer to symbolism of a superlative nature. So, sure, Martin Luther King, Jr. was an icon of the U.S. civil rights movement, but he is the rare exception.

    It would be better for us all go back to the primary meaning on this one. Leave the icons where they belong – on the church walls.


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