Thursday, March 16, 2006

Don’t count your clichés…

It’s been a good day for clichés. I guess the Cliché Watch staff were late to work and missed the morning news programmes. Before 10am we had had ‘litmus test’; ‘moved the goalposts’; ‘level playing field’; not one, but TWO of that weather forecasters’ and traffic reporters’ standby: ‘but the good news is’s; and innumerable ‘the bottom line is’s. (Not sure what the plural of ‘bottom line is’ is.) Oh shit, is ‘not one, but TWO’ a cliché? Still, when in Rome, I say.
Someone counted the clichés in Hansard (report on proceedings in Parliament) over a whole year. The five-lengths winner, with some 900-plus uses, was ‘at the end of the day’. If politicians attend on 90 days a year, which I think is about right, it means that on average ‘at the end of the day’ aired more than ten times a day.
Cliché machines were in overdrive at the week-end in the obituaries of John Profumo, who, 40 years ago, when he was a minister in Harold MacMillan’s Tory government, had an affair with a prostitute. He had to resign, of course, but not for the affair – he had to quit because he lied. He told parliament ‘there was no impropriety in my association with Miss Keeler’. How values change: today our beloved prime minister lies to parliament every day with impunity; and ministerial affairs with prostitutes are almost obligatory. And a US president said, ’I did not have sexual relations with that…’ and stayed president.
I suppose it’s a bit of a cliché to call a journey ‘an odyssey’. But everyone does it: especially travel writers and chefs (would you believe An Odyssey of Jewish Food?). An amazing play I saw last night was based on the original: Homer’s The Odyssey, a very clever show setting Odysseus’s ten-year travels in the context of illegal immigration. Appropriately it was in an unfashionable theatre in an unfashionable – unless you’re an immigrant from Poland or Ireland – suburb; but everything - acting, sets, sound and visual effects, and music were amazing. The musician, Peter Troake – yes, apart from a bit of percussion by the actors there was only one – played everything: acoustic guitar, mandolin, Greek bagpipes, cimbalom, drums, accordion, tin whistle and tenor sax. And he acted a bit.
Virgil said of Odysseus’s generous gift of a wooden horse to the Trojans: ‘beware of Greeks bearing gifts’. A 3,000-year-old cliché brought to life.

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