Monday, December 11, 2006

Bah, Humbug! 'Tis the Season for Those Cliches!

John McIntyre, The Baltimore Sun's assistant managing editor for the copy desk and a past president of the American Copy Editors Society, writes a blog that looks at issues of language and writing, particularly grammar and usage, as they come up in The Sun's reporting. Here's a link to his main site:
I would like to reprint one of the articles he posted there (in early November), having to do with those tired holiday cliches. Do you have any other cliches to add to his list? Post them here.

Still no prisons? Still no workhouses?
Halloween may be just past and Guy Fawkes day tomorrow, but already the holiday catalogs clutter the mailbox and Christmas merchandise creeps onto the shelves. So before the impulse to use prefabricated phrases can overpower the unsteady hand, here is a reminder from The Sun’s in-house policy on holiday cliches to eschew. This list, compiled by Sun copy editors and colleagues in the American Copy Editors Society, appeared as the third posting of this blog and was also published in an earlier form on the Poynter Institute’s Web site under the title "Avoid holiday cliches."

"’Tis the season": Not in copy, not in headlines, not at all. Never, never, never, never, never. You cannot make this fresh. Do not attempt it. "’Twas the night before" anything: 'Twasing is no more defensible than ’tising. (And if you must refer to the Rev. Mr. Moore's poem, if indeed he wrote it, the proper title is "A Visit from St. Nicholas.")

"Jolly old elf": Please, no. And if you must use Kriss Kringle, remember the double s.

Any "Christmas came early" construction.

"Yes, Virginia" allusions: No.

"Grinch steals": When someone vandalizes holiday decorations, steals a child's toys from under the tree, or otherwise dampens holiday cheer, this construction may be almost irresistible. Resist it.

Give Dickens a rest. No ghosts of anything past, present or future.

Delete bah and humbug from your working vocabulary. Treat Scrooge as you would the Grinch, i.e., by ignoring him.

"Turkey and all the trimmings": If you can't define trimmings without looking up the word, you shouldn't be using it.

"White stuff" for snow: We should have higher standards of usage than do television weather forecasters. Also avoid the tautologies favored by these types: winter season, weather conditions, winter weather conditions, snow event and snow precipitation.

And the tautologies favored in advertising: free gift, extra bonus and extra added bonus.

Old Man Winter, Jack Frost and other moldy personifications can safely be omitted. If the spirit of ecumenism and inclusion requires mention of Hanukkah in holiday articles, these points should be kept in mind. Hanukkah is a holiday more like Independence Day than Christmas, and it is only the coincidence of the calendar dates in a gentile culture that has caused the holiday to mimic Christian and secular elements. The holidays are coincidental; they are not twins.

Pray do not ring out or ring in an old year, a new year, or anything else.

Parodies of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" are, if possible, even more tedious than the original.

Some readers (and, sadly, some writers) lap up this swill. It is familiar, and the complete lack of originality is a comfort. It is for such people that television exists.