Friday, 31 May 2019


Pomposity attacks writers of obituaries and nature documentary narration. They also use the kind of banalities I was told to cut out when I was 12, and end up writing like a novelist or journalist from 100 years ago, in a manner which is both overblown and arch. And catching. 

Something like this: No greater example could exist of the dearth of amusements which disrelish or prejudice or both have brought about among us than in the charming town of Brighton, a not only self-asserted, but world-confessed queen of watering-places. If this sparkling, salt-watery gem of a place, this villeggiaitura of all the world’s idleness, belonged to any foreign Power, it would be one of the gayest indoor and outdoor bains de mer in existence.

She became a devotee of, the bell duly pealed, he rested his head on assorted perfumed pillows, he liked to don an oriental jacket, he had a lively appreciation of female pulchritude, experienced at close quarters, forbore to, garlanded with honours, he divided his time between, he slaked his thirst for adventure by, his
annus mirabilis, his world was shattered when, it is testament to his talents that, prompting the wry remark, the deed was done, unclear as to why, until such time as they saw fit to, the less physically taxing métier of poetry, took to task, took up residence, were long viewed solely as, at the helm, assumed the mantle.

Nature Documentaries
The lion is a shadow of his former self, gnawing hunger, the snow still holds sway, beauty where death reigns, doomed attempt to find a greener pasture, teeming with life, summer's bounty/
claim the bounty, ablaze, escape unscathed, easy pickings, too hot to handle, as a new day dawns, the fruits of their labour, aplenty, darkness falls, a devastating intensity, a botanical wonderland, coaxing new blooms from the rich glacial soil, held at bay, reaping the rewards, he resists with every ounce of his strength but the battle is lost.
The language is overcooked: "elemental forces", "time of plenty", "spectacle", “formidable”, the monsoon has reached the “peak of its power”, this “vast river in the sky”, the “mighty Amazon river” – you get the picture.

Clichés are forced into service: A single strong gust has proved an ill wind for Daisy. Hunting creatures “fill their bellies”, all kinds of things “are beginning to stir”, and the turtle is “a prized delicacy for the cooking pot”. (“A local delicacy” would do.)

From Wild India:their most precious harvest” – someone turns over a piece of honeycomb slowly and reverently. “Harsh realities are never far away – even the summer nights hold an unwelcome chill. After dark, the village takes on a siege mentality. The villagers close themselves off from some very unwelcome visitors – Asian black bears. It’s not just bears on the prowl. Foxes take their pick… in the shadows an even more sinister presence is lurking.”

If you want to sound pompous, use words and phrases like these: a goodly number, a variety of, above all, additionally, all and sundry, amongst, approximately, as of now, as you would wish, assist, attempt, attired, centre on, expedite, in addition, in conjunction with, in excess of, in respect of, indefatigable, inherent, lest, major, many a time and oft, observed, occur, ongoing, over time, overall, plaudits, potential, prone to, proven, regard, residence, rightfully, special, sufficient, the bulk of, the majority of, various, viable, virtually, wish, with respect to.

End your nature or science doc with the words “…in ways we are only just beginning to understand”.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Clichés 5

Extinct predators’ teeth always resemble bananas. Abuse and insults are hurled. Political demos are good humoured and have a carnival atmosphere unless they don’t. A shallow grave is where the bodies are found.  Wedding dresses are “meringues” – at least they were in the 80s – but ornate buildings are “wedding cakes”. You should call any female over 65 “a lovely lady”, and if she’s mentioned in conversation, don’t forget to say “Bless her!” If you want to reference a pointless activity, opt for basket weaving.

Surely, only effrontery is "breathtaking". Nonsense is “arrant". (JP)

Note to editors: tariffs are always slapped. (@NewsProvidence. And writs.)

Is anything ever "infernal" apart from a "racket"? (@Bob_Fischer)

Writing about UK politics for the first time in what feels like ages, and it’s amazing how easily the clichés slip out... reforms are “sweeping”, lines are “tough”, etc. (Daniel Trilling. And cuts are "swingeing".)

Always 'bleak', aren't they, open spaces? Like plazas are always 'windswept'. Is Hyde Park 'bleak'? Is Trafalgar Square 'windswept'? (Hugh Pearman)

Any white person writing about any city in Asia: "It's a city of contrasts, old and new, traditional and modern, at times hectic but also serene...." (@wetcasements)

Challenge to newspapers: try to write a headline about the Gulf that doesn't have the words 'sand' or 'desert' in it. (@KarlreMarks)

Mist is what rises on the morning of a battle. Fog is what appears when you're chasing a killer through London, accompanied by a bobby. (Heidi Regan, Annandale

Mixed emotions, emotional rollercoaster, emotional smorgasbord. (Naga Munchetty)

One would like more criticism, less gush. In the first three pages we get “note superciliously”, “pause reverentially”, “glows invitingly” and “wafts grandly”. Why look when you can “espy”? (Times book review Jan 2019)

The Times points out that baby bumps are constantly being “flaunted”. Kate is “flaunting her baby bump” in October 2017. (It’s actually invisible.)

When it was first discovered in 2003, jaws dropped at how intact the chamber was. But it is only now, after years of painstaking investigation by more than 40 specialists, that a fuller picture of the extraordinary nature of the find is emerging. (BBC News on the Prittlewell Prince, artefacts going on display in 2019. Research is always "painstaking". You can't discover something twice.)

Stonehenge is just one of 35000 megalithic stone monuments in Europe. And now, after 10 years of painstaking analysis, one archaeologist has concluded they all began 6500 years ago in northwest France. (DigVentures)

When not being "unearthed" from filing cabinets, lost artefacts are found in "dusty cupboards": Relief of Hatshepsut “unearthed” from storage in Swansea “had been gathering dust for four decades” (Times 2018)

Dean Mohamed’s life and work have been chronicled in the painstaking researches of Michael H. Fischer and Rozina Visram. (

Diana Keys, aged 70, who has spent the last 40 years painting her own version of the Sistine Chapel in her council flat, Hemel Hempstead. (@womensart. All-over murals in a council flat are always compared to the Sistine Chapel. These feature the Almighty, but also horses and mermaids.)

It’s been a very big week for Europe. (All weeks are seven days long.)
The care crisis is getting bigger. (BBC. They mean "worse".)
I’ve got a big announcement coming up. (Rory Stewart. He means "important".)

Guffaw, titter, chortle, chuckle: These sounds are only heard when pantomime villains are planning your horrible fate, explains the Times.

A property development company could be forced to rebuild a 165-year-old East End pub “brick by brick” after it was accused of demolishing it without permission. (Sept 2018)

"Margo Durrell is the sort of person who calls a doorway “my threshold”. Her memoir also contains a “would-be farcical set-piece". "A meal is made of melodramas such as purloined bathplugs, blocked drains and a chimney fire.” People are “blissfully unaware” of listening audiences etc. (Roger Lewis on Whatever Happened to Margo, Times 2018)

There are lots of “famed” and “legendary” scientists. Every other character is introduced as “tall”, “slim”, “athletic” and “handsome” if male, or “attractive” if female. (Times 2018 on a biography of Enrico Fermi)

One of the most interesting rooms was the North Turret Room,” he tells us. Authors shouldn’t tell us that things are interesting. Their job is to tell us the interesting thing. (Times 2018)

Nightmares are waking, Lister is both dazzled and enthralled.” Another character is referred to as “the quarrelsome Scotsman”. (Review of a book about early surgery, Times 2017)

As I walked/rode out one morning
On my coal-black/milk-white steed
In the merry month of May
Whom should I meet but a
Shepherdess/gypsy girl/maiden OR
Soldier/sailor home from the wars
Looking for lost sheep/a gold ring/sweetheart
Among the leaves so green-o...
(Jane Susanna Ennis)

More here, and links to the rest.