During a work lunchtime conversation that touched on a rude topic, one of my co-lunchers remarked: “That’s so wrong in so many ways!” That sentence is an odd construction, I thought to myself. She didn’t make it up. Where did it come from? There was a time when it didn’t exist. Somebody made it up one day, and it started spreading. How does that process work? It occurred to me that search engines can help you figure out just how widespread a cliché is. In no particular order, here are some clichés that not only annoy me but also make me wonder about their trajectories.
- That’s so wrong in so many ways! (13,900 hits)
- Don’t go there! (849,000 hits)
- I’m all about X! where X = value, style, chocolate, … (933,000 hits)
- X is the new black! where X = small, red, fast, … (721,000 hits)
When were they born? What helped them spread? How much longer can we expect to endure them? Search technology can quantify some of these very fuzzy questions. This is not a new observation. The web seems to be peculiarly thick with wordheads who obsess about things like this (i.e. people like me). You can find Wikipedia articles about catchphrases and Bartleby references for clichés. But the real find was coming across the Language Log, where they have coined a word, snowclone, for hackneyed phrasal templates. These people are prose… sorry, I mean pros … and they devote long discussions to forms like Homer Simpson’s “Mmmm, X” (which I used only the day before yesterday, but let’s not go there).
I came across the Language Log while researching the phrase “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords“. This post on ant overlords and cliché velocity makes a good point: the distance between trendy and trite has grown increasingly short. At least that’s what all the hep cats say.