Why the media should avoid annoying cliches
In recap, last week’s column highlighted how what I chose to refer to as the ‘lingua franca of NGO’s’, in a way, affects the use of prepositions. The said language, however, does not confine itself to NGO’s; it is to be found across the ‘business world’, of which NGO’s are king.
Of the many words highlighted last week, the most common are ‘leverage’, ‘impact’, ‘best practice’ and thinking outside the box’. Reports on seminars or business transactions are hardly complete without these words. The dictionary definition of ‘impact’ (noun) is ‘the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another’. The synonyms ‘collision’, ‘crash’, ‘bump’, ‘bang’ or ‘jolt’ make the meaning clearer.
Yet it is the verb form of the word that the business world lays more emphasis on, basically because it is used to describe how an action by one business entity could affect another entity engaged in the same business. I recall reading an interesting claim that because most of the bean counters in large organisations could not bother themselves with differentiating between ‘affect’ and ‘effect’, it was so much easier to settle on ‘impact’ and let the readers struggle with the finer details.
Thus, it is much easier to say “Airtel’s tariff cuts will impact Safaricom’s projections’. ‘Impact’ covers both ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ because, on probability, by ‘affecting’ Safaricom, the company could ‘effect’ new tariffs that it had in the pipeline earlier than planned.
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Ordinarily, most of us use the word ‘leverage’ as a noun that means ‘to exert force by means of a lever’, but the business world uses ‘leverage’ to describe how a situation can be exploited to great advantage. In financial terms, leverage is ‘the ratio of a company’s loan capital (debt) to the value of its ordinary shares (equity). At the rate at which the aforementioned words have been used, they have become clichés.’
A cliché is defined as ‘an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel’. Nevertheless, clichés are not a ‘sin’ exclusive to the business world; the media has its own fair share.
These include ‘launch investigations’, ‘move to court’, ‘fighting for his or her life’, ‘he will personally’, ‘no stone will be left unturned’, ‘hotly contested’, ‘eye-popping’, ‘in the wake of’, ‘game changer’, ‘burst into the national limelight’, ‘tongues wagging’, ‘media consultants’, ‘political analysts’ ‘the devil is in the details’, ‘closely watched contest’, ‘underscore’, ‘turned a blind eye” and ‘a myriad’.
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There is absolutely nothing wrong with the quoted expressions, except that they are used for dramatic effect in news stories. Sometimes, if not used incorrectly, they are applied to merely complete a word count.
The problem would arise if every other news story features the same bland expressions. Imagine reading several stories in one newspaper and encountering the same expressions in each of them. That would vindicate the claim that there is a form of laziness responsible for what some people consider dull stories.
Someone critically ill cannot ‘fight for his life’ in hospital. He is helplessly lying there; the fighting (struggle) to save his life being undertaken by the medics attending to him in the theatre or intensive care unit. Ideally, a contest can either be ‘friendly’ or ‘bitter’, never cold or hot.
Today, the media brands any Tom, Dick or Harry who can venture an opinion on anything an ‘analyst’ , ‘expert’ or ‘consultant’, yet some of the analyses’ are pedestrian at best. The media should not allow itself to be used to build peoples’ profiles that could be misleading to the public.
Often, one comes across expressions like; ‘the police said they will not leave any stone unturned’. Finally though, the police don’t turn enough stones to find the maggots. Maybe it is because they look for evidence under the stones and refuse to think ‘outside the box’ that they fail to acquit themselves where serious investigative work is required.
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While we were recently told that the murder of a female university student in Migori would take a couple of days to unravel, a week down the line it does not look promising.
While ‘thinking outside the box’ is used to mean using unconventional means to solve a problem, the police are trained to follow specific rules and methodologies. Frankly, they are not equipped to ‘think outside the box’, but rather, inside it.
Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]
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