Orwell’s last rule in the rulebook is to break all rules, except that his condition was that it shouldn’t result in one’s saying something barbarous. Well, this last bit is a spoiler so one can ignore it in the larger interest of creating novelty, thank you
If I want write about the past, would I caption the piece “Down memory lane”? NO!!
Clichés are problematic and on more than one count. One of course is that a word or phrase becomes clichéd through overuse. That’s easy and anyone could have figured it out. But why would a word or phrase be used by so many so often and for so long unless it was not the most appropriate for particular situations.
That’s where the problem lies and that’s what Orwell meant when he chided writers for using clichés instead of thinking up something new. Clichés are tempting because they are tried and tested, easily available and because it is difficult to construct new phrases that are equally catchy or apt.
Still, every time I read “hoist by his own petard” I want the writer hoist by his own petard and to remain there both for his own sake and others. Then there is the (argh!) “to be or not to be” — that’s a question which I can only answer with up your nose with a hose.
Ditto for Yeats’ “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” or a few lines below in the stanza: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity”.
It should be obvious how tempting these lines are; how true when one casts a glance at the street today and finds “passionate intensity” being expelled through the rectum; neither can one ever hope or claim to pen such lines, it being a function of creativity at its most creative and beautiful.
So what might one do? Avoid temptation perhaps. Difficult at the best of times it is nearly impossible when lesser writers like this scribe want to say something important and can pounce on the perfect line penned by a genius.
The line may be perfect but it is not as fresh as a daisy nor as delicate as a flower and leaves me cold as ice. The last bit is not only clichéd, it also mixes metaphors, another issue to which we shall shortly return because too many of us are left holding the baby after the hand that rocked the cradle has kicked the bucket.
Closer to home is Faiz Sahib. Every time I hear or read “Jau rukay tau koh-i gira’n thay hum / jau chalay tau ja’n say guzar gai”, I grunt; and when I hear “Hum daikhai’n gay”, I positively choke.
Don’t get me wrong. These are beautiful, powerful, evocative lines. It is not everyday that high literature lends itself so easily to the emotion on the street and still, until it is used and abused by all types of charlatans, retain its poignancy.
But there must be some let-up because the street, like lesser writers, is always in need of the perfect line, the perfect poem, the catchy slogan. When it gets one, it ravages it over and over, like life does the lonely until even high literature begins to look like “Meem” in Manto’s “Darling”.
One can be clever of course and captioning especially requires punning and doubles entendres. Sometimes we miss the opportunity like we did when Justice Bhagwan Das was to decide the now-infamous reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. No one said “Bhagwan to decide Pakistan’s fate”. But then Shakespeare never wrote that nor Yeats, not even Faiz Sahib — so we missed it.
There is another kind of cleverness too and here the probability of getting it wrong goes up to one and becomes a certainty. Yes, mixing metaphors. One can throw the house out the window, tidy up the loose ends, read the handwriting in the wind and even have dirty laundry coming home to roost and why not. If we can now have people slipping in the bathroom and acquiring martyrdom, what’s a couple of mixed metaphors between friends? After all that’s what BBC Food is all about, experimentation. No?
Plus even Orwell’s last rule in the rulebook is to break all rules, except that his condition was that it shouldn’t result in one’s saying something barbarous. Well, this last bit is a spoiler so one can ignore it in the larger interest of creating novelty, thank you.
To be honest, mixed metaphors are begotten of linguistic enthusiasm. The writer wants to say something and he wants to say it differently. The simple sentence won’t do because no one likes it simple. So he has to go for a bang, the big bang in fact — he wants to give you, dear reader, a good bang for your buck, which is another horrible cliché in case you didn’t notice. So cut him some slack.
Cut him some slack? Did I say that after writing about clichés? I should kick myself in the shin. Kick myself in the shin? Guess I need to sign off. This is all coming out wrong.
Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at email@example.com
Courtesy: Daily Times, 28/4/2008