Clichécollisional

Headline for this story, from the Daily Telegraph‘s landing page:

BORIS JOHNSON PLEDGES TO RAMP UP VACCINATION ROLL OUT

The italics are mine. Perhaps I am just unusually literal-minded, or oversensitive to cliché but this seems to mix metaphors such that they act in opposition to each other. If  ‘roll out’ means anything at all in this context, it is the ‘rolling-out’ of wheeled packing cases down the ramp of the extended tailgate of a pantechnicon. It is an image filled with purpose and expedition. To my mind, the term ‘ramp up’ means exactly the opposite — to push the wheeled cases back up the ramp whence they had just descended.

Therefore, the use of the phrase as above suggests that those who coined it have no sense of the meaning of the words they have used. Cliché implies words have been bleached of all meaning so effectively that they are just strings of letters without value. They are just babble, duckspeak.

And this is really why I dislike cliché so very, very much. Language is the only means whereby we can communicate with one another. The meanings of words may be mutable, but they are important. The use of language requires thought. One should be careful about the words one uses. Cliché results from thoughtlessness, carelessness, and lack of consideration for one’s audience.

To be sure, the use of cliché in newspaper headlines can have amusing results. My favourite is one from a report of the campaign in the Western Desert during the Second World War, during which Monty’s Eighth Army fought Rommel’s Afrika Korps:

EIGHTH ARMY PUSH BOTTLES UP GERMANS

The amusement results from just this collision — between the thoughtlessness of the use of the cliché’d term, and it’s actual meaning. If a term is used without reference to its meaning, it can mean anything — or nothing.

And that’s the … er … last straw.

About Henry Gee

Henry Gee is an author, editor and recovering palaeontologist, who lives in Cromer, Norfolk, England, with his family and numerous pets, inasmuch as which the contents of this blog and any comments therein do not reflect the opinions of anyone but myself, as they don't know where they've been.
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2 Responses to Clichécollisional

  1. Brian Clegg says:

    I suspect you are correct about ‘ramp up’ – with my physicist brain I’d always for some reason assumed it referred to sawtooth wave, as on an oscilloscope, but it probably is something more mundane.

    • Henry Gee says:

      Thanks Brian. I think your comment illustrates the point very well. Stripped of meaning, cliches are free to mean whatever anyone wants them to mean. Very Humpty-Dumpty.

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