Monday, October 06, 2008

Myles ahead, or cliché refuses to succumb despite long battle

In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, that man of many aliases, Flann O'Brien, wrote satirical newspaper columns for the Irish Times. These included a recurring feature called "The Myles na gCopaleen Catechism of Cliché," which was just what it sounds like. Here's a sample:

"Is man ever hurt in a motor smash?"

"No. He sustains an injury."

"Does such a man ever die from his injuries?"

"No. He succumbs to them."
Now, I work for a newspaper, and trust me: People today are still sustaining injuries and succumbing instead of just getting hurt and dying. Why, I don't know. And, as O'Brien might have asked: "To what does a person succumb after a long battle with?"
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Here's another excerpt from the Catechism of Cliché. Here's a short biography of Flann O'Brien. And here's your question: Which clichés do you find maddening or at least curious?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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20 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

An even shorter biography here

If you want a smile or two you should read through the Times of India online. Its not the cliches, its the fact that they're all from about 1950.

October 06, 2008  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Ah, they'll be in New York? Unfortunately, I won't be, but thanks for the suggestion, Peter.

All cliches annoy me! They reveal a mainstream brain at work.

October 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Today's edition led a story thus: "Traders were helplessly gawking at their trading terminals on the Dalal Street ... "

I'd have cut "trading," but I like the image of traders helplessly gawking. "Helplessly gawking traders" -- Sounds a bit like "Closely Watched Trains," doesn't it?

I may look in at the Times of India from time to time to see that that paper does with cliches. Cliches can have interesting second lives.

October 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think the Mainstream Brains would be a good name for a band.

PM, at least at Otto Penzler's, they're dropping in to sign books rather than doing a formal reading. So if you should happen to be in New York some time soon, you might find signed copies.

Re Wednesday's reading, shall I pick up for you any of the books available in paperback?

October 06, 2008  
Blogger Sucharita Sarkar said...

My husband works for The Times Of India and he's always cribbing about the quality of English produced there (he is more up in arms - another cliche there - about the grammatical errors, though!). I guess we in India still find English a rather new language. We proudly display our knowledge of all available synonyms and similes, sacrificing simplicity for variety. English is like a shiny coin for us (another cliche), we can't really see the cliches like you can, attuned as you are through centuries of usage.

October 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your husband and I are doppelgängers. I, too, have long complained about the quality of English produced at my newspaper.

Your assessment makes sense. I had guessed that such an explanation might account for any prevalence of clichés in Indian English. The shiny coin may be a cliché, but you have restored it to life and given it great weight. I thank you for that bit of mental stimulation!

October 06, 2008  
OpenID maxine said...

The fine-tooth comb, or fine tooth-comb, or fine tooth comb, has to be the worst crime-fiction cliche ever. Even now, I still regularly come across it in books I read (just finished Tana French's The Likeness and there it was, but don't ask me to wade through the 550-plus pages to tell you exactly where).
Ban it, please!

October 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm surprised to learn that it occurred in a contemporary novel by a youngish writer. Was the use ironic or humorous? If not, I'd probably react the way you did. And I think you might enjoy "The Myles na gCopaleen Catechism of Cliché." Among other things, O'Brien's parentheses can make a point more sharply than a thousand grammarians who are snooty, self-appointed, or staff members of the New York Times.

October 06, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Reviews. They're either "scathing" or "glowing."

(That's hardly the one which most aggravates me, but it came to mind immediately.)

O/T, but Peter, are you ready for the rematch of 1977-1978 and 1983?

October 06, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Sucharita, you cant complain about the price of The Times of India, when I was there it cost the equivalent of about five cents. You're dead right about the adverbs and similes, though, on occasion it can read like a JK Rowling novel; I especially enjoy the sports coverage = where else can you read about "gallant" batsmen who "magnificently defended the crease" but were still "out for a duck" on a "very sticky wicket." The British papers are all too cynical for such language and I think its a shame.

October 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, some reviews are even devastating.

This rematch puts me in mind of my lamented Montreal Expos' only appearance in the playoffs, when they beat the Phillies in the improvised East Division matchup after the strike season of 1981, then lost to the Dodgers in the league championship series.

Your state must have been especially pleased with Shane Victorino's grand slam.

October 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Americans are innocent enough occasionally to attempt that sort of language but too cynical to enjoy it.

October 06, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Our sportscasters were, at any rate.

October 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Homers, are they? Homerism, boosterism and vacuous media overkill are the reasons I'm always not so secretly pleased when a local team gets knocked out.

October 07, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Let's just say that the only baseball highlights I regularly saw all season were of the Phillies, entirely because of Victorino. There are two Hawai'i-born players on the As and one on the Pirates (I think -- he got traded mid-year from the Braves), so we occasionally got to see them.

The Giants, Angels, Dodgers, Mariners and Padres -- all geographically much closer and two of them (LA and SF) with good-sized fan bases here? Ha. Nary a highlight to be found.

October 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

When you put it that way, I can well imagine that if I lived in Hawai'i, I'd have whore new worlds of sportscaster misdeeds to fume about. That sort of parochialism is an insult to all residents of the state as well as a disservice to its sports fans.

October 07, 2008  
Blogger 2KoP said...

You changed threads from cliches to sports, but sports casting/writing is loaded with cliches (and seems to create new ones all the time).

Worse than a cliche is one that is misused, as in "I could care less", when you mean "I couldn't care less", which is obvious, since you can't think of a more interesting way to express your feelings. (Of course, I'm referring to the universal 'you' here.)

October 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This thread did get diverted rather quickly, yes. And you are dead on about the speed with which American sports creates cliches.

"I could care less" grates on my nerves more than most such misusages. It also often makes the speaker or writer sound like an illiterate dope. Oddly enough, though, it may make sense as a sarcastic indication of disdain, along the lines of "I'm really scared" to indicate the absence of fear and the absurdity of the threat.

October 11, 2008  
Blogger 2KoP said...

That's a very generous interpretation. I don't give the misusers that much credit. By the way, thanks to this post I have added The Best of Myles to my Amazon wish list, and relating this to one of your earlier posts, it has a different cover.

October 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're right. Anyone capable of formulating a linguistic justification for "I could care less" would probably not use the expression in the first place.
"I could care less" is the verbal equivalent of chewing gum with one's mouth open. It calls attention to its own vulgarity.

I bought my copy of The Best of Myles in Ireland, so it likely would have been an Irish edition.

October 11, 2008  

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