America, I stand before you yet again with an all too familiar story. It’s a story we all know backwards. It’s a real-life horror film we see replayed almost weekly. And still we watch and still nothing changes. Is there no end to this terrible epidemic, this on-going malaise, this grimly repeating history that is daily paraded before us? It’s time we woke up to ourselves and squarely faced the facts. They’re facts that many find hard to confront. But confront them we must.
Recent years have seen a pall, a plague, a blight cast over this once great and freedom-loving nation. Over and over again it happens. It happens, and yet nothing happens to make it stop happening. And it won’t stop happening until we say it stops, all of us. For make no mistake, we are all, to some extent, complicit – the government, the media, the powers that be and you the very people. We all of us must come together with a will as one to fight this scourge. Together we must take a stand to put an end to these mindless crimes against language.
Yes, this plague of hackneyed phrases must stop. These meaningless, glib, easy clichés must stop. This windblown rhetoric, this empty anguish and hand-wringing, these mounds of mouldering prayers and petitions and invocations piled up to a God, who by now must surely think we’re a joke – all of these must stop! Yes, God can move mountains, but you’d better bring a shovel. And right now, from God’s point of view, we’re just staring at a rusty spade. You can pray all you want, till you’re red in the neck and black in the face, but faith without action is dead. In short, we must put an end to this meaningless rhetoric of grief.
The statistics are grim. But if we’re too numb to speak we’ll let the facts speak for us. This year alone has seen a three-hundred percent increase in the use of grievous cliche. There is a platitude epidemic. Starting with the worst offender, there have been literally hundreds of thousands of indiscriminate uses of the phrase ‘senseless tragedy’. It is often coupled with ‘innocent victim’, ‘had everything to live for’ and ‘didn’t deserve to die’.
Similarly, the phrase ‘tonight, every parent will hug their child a little bit tighter’ has been scatter-sprayed with abandon by columnists, commentators, senators, governors and – mea culpa – the President himself. Also, the phrases, ‘our thoughts go out to’, ‘our hearts are with’, ‘had her whole life before her’ and ‘never be forgotten’ have been wantonly unloaded. Other clichés to be repeatedly fired include ‘how could this happen again?’, ‘soul searching’ and ‘America is left wondering’.
People ask ‘is there a pattern to these language sprees? Is it just a “white privilege thing?”’ To a degree, yes. Statistically, there is a liberal-raised-college-educated-top-earning bias in the use of the phrases. But make no mistake, these words are not the sole province of any particular kind of individual or special interest group. They are used with abandon by persons of every social, political and cultural stripe, from those in power, like the government and the media, to average American men, women and children on our streets. From Aspen ski lodges to deep-south trailer parks people are saying these things.
The rest of the world is shocked. It cannot comprehend our attachment to, and catastrophically casual use of, this language. This epidemic of hand-wringing and soul searching has swamped us in a tide of ‘the time has come‘, ‘meaningful action’, ‘engage in dialogue’, ‘tough measures’, ‘stay the course’ and ‘see this thing through’. But as my father told me, the definition of insanity is saying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This will be a hard road. There are those who don’t want change. We’re up against the entrenched forces of the NRA. The National Rhetoric Association is an old and honourable organisation. But even it by now must recognise that America has a major language problem.
Hand in hand with this rising tide of grief clichés has come a rise in professional synonym makers, searching desperately for fresh ways to describe events that remain, in outline, essentially unchanged. Only the names, dates and numbers vary. ‘Barbaric’, ‘inhuman’, ‘psychopathic’, ‘horrendous’, ‘mindless’ have all been exhausted from their linguistic arsenal. These professional synonym makers have hit a wall trying to meet the insatiable demand to mint fresh words and phrases with which to reload the magazine of grief. We’ve all been hit by, and ourselves have been guilty of using, ‘horror’, ‘loss’, ‘unspeakable’, ‘unimaginable’, ‘shattered innocence’, ‘devastated lives’. But these are now spent shells, as are ‘despair’, ‘incomprehension’, and ‘mustn’t let this happen again’.
Meanwhile, countless variations on the phrases ‘quiet, shy loner who kept to himself’, and ‘seemed like a nice guy’, have infected our press and public discourse. The National Rhetoric Association, of course, is sticking to its guns in its resolve to preserve what they say are our sacredly enshrined language rights, backed by those with political power and influence in its service. It seeks to silence and paint as unpatriotic calls for a ban on platitudists, rhetoricians, prayer mongers and synonym makers.
The NRA says ‘clichés don’t kill people, people kill clichés’. But it makes no sense. The NRA says that we will only take their iPhones, and the words these devices spray, if it’s from their “cold, dead hands”. But I say, our hearts go out to all these poor tortured words and phrases that get murdered with such rampant indiscrimination. We must come together as a nation and stop this killing tide. Thankyou, America. Let us pray, Godbless and goodnight.