Friday, March 08, 2013

I'm sick and tired of clichés

Recently, I was having a conversation with someone who is struggling with some personal issues and I tried so hard to avoid the inevitable outcome in that circumstance, and I was successful for a while, but eventually that's always going to be an effort doomed to failure. Eventually, I had to drop the ...
"Well, hang in there."
Yep, that's it. Conversation over. As the words were leaving my mouth, my head dropped in defeat. In 1990, Mike Godwin observed that given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis. They made a law about it:  Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies - "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1". Invoking "Hang In There" when attempting to offer encouragement is the same way in that it's eventually going to happen, and when it does, the discussion is ended for all intents and purposes. When it comes to clichés, "Hang In There" is a brick wall at the end of a dead-end, one way street. Because what are we saying when we say "Hang In There"? We're saying, "I've run out of actual advice and empathy and anything worth saying so, in conclusion, I guess, if nothing else, don't kill yourself. And not because I have an alternative; just because I'm supposed to say that."

It doesn't help that the word "hang" is part of it.

"Well, hang..."
"What? You think I should hang myself?"
" there."

Clichés serve their purpose. How else am I supposed to defend my failure to apologize without blaming it on love? But why are there so few clichés for certain situations? Every football game in Green Bay during January is played on a frozen tundra. Is there any other kind of tundra? Does anything else ever happen on a frozen tundra? Apparently not.

"Um, hello?"
How is it possible after all this time of human beings speaking to one another in English that we don't have more clichés to express encouragement? We have probably a million hackneyed ways to say "screw you" but when it comes to trying to provide motivation and hope, we're stuck with "Hang In There". Seems like somebody has dropped the ball there.


Jeff Hickmott said...

In the UK we rely on the time-worn "Well, keep your chin up." The effect is much the same.

Clark Brooks said...

Yep, we use that one sometimes too and you're right, it's the same. A conversation ender. "Well, that should do it. I told them to keep their chin up. They should be fine in hours...or not. Either way, I'm out of the loop now."