Cliches and Jargon

A cliche is a trite expression, one devalued by overuse:

an agonizing reappraisal at this point in time cool, calm, and collected history tells us the bottom line the finer things of life the moment of truth the voice of the people

Many cliches are simply stale of speech:

cool as a cucumber dead as a doornail gentle as a lamb happy as a lark in the pink light as a feather

Mother Nature pleased as Punch sober as a judge the patience of Job the pinnacle of success white as snow

Cliches are dull and unoriginal. Worse, they impede clear perception, feeling, or thought. Cliches are verbal molds into which we force experience. Instead of shaping reality for ourselves, we accept it, and pass it on, precast (and probably miscast).

Cliches, however, ought not to be confused with dead metaphors. Expressions like the key to theproblem, the heart of the matter, the mouth of the if they ever were cliches, are so no longer. They are simply old metaphors long dead and now useful, everyday diction. A cliche attempts to be original and perceptive but fails. A dead metaphor, on the other hand, makes no pretense to newness; it has dried and hardened into a useful expression for a common idea.

A special kind of cliche is the euphemism, which softens or conceals a fact considered improper or unpleasant. Euphemisms for death include to pass away, to depart this life, to go to that big [whatever] in the sky—all equally trite. Poverty, sexual matters, and diseases are often named euphemistically. Politicians, diplomats, advertisers are adept with euphemisms: dedication to public service = "personal ambition," a frank exchange of views = "continued disagreement," tired blood = "anemia."

Jargon

Jargon is technical language misused. Technical language, the precise diction demanded by any specialized trade or profession, is necessary when experts communicate with one another. It becomes jargon when it is applied outside the limits of technical discourse. Jargon is really a kind of pretentiousness, a learned and mysterious language designed to impress the nonexpert:

Given a stockpile of innovative in-house creativity for the generation of novel words, substituting members for the input of letters whenever feasible, and fiscally optimized by computer capaciti-zation for targeting in on core issues relating to aims, goals, and priorities, and learned skills, we might at last be freed from our dependence on the past.

This is in fact a parody by Lewis Thomas, a biologist who does not write jargon. It catches the faults of jargon perfectly: the abstract, polysyllabic Latinism (capacitization, optimized); the trendy word (creativity, in-house, input, core issues); the pointless redundancy (aims, goals, and priorities); and the awesome combination of and headwords

(innovative in-house creativity, computer capacitization).

At its worst jargon is incomprehensible. (The word originally meant the twittering of birds.) Even when it can be puzzled out, jargon is nothing more than puffed-up language, a kind of false profundity in which simple ideas are padded out in polysyllabic dress.

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