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Thursday, October 18, 2007


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Against slogans and stock phrases even the gods contend in vain.

Keep fighting the good fight.

Joshie Juice

Yack! And now I am self-conscious. I began a forthcoming essay (to print!) with: "Perhaps because we are overwhelmed today with the screens on our desks, on our walls, and in our pockets, much scholarly labor has been devoted in recent years to theorizing the visual in rhetorical studies . . . . "

Uh-oh. I have succumbed too!

But upon reflection: I still think we're overwhelmed. I think this after challening myself with a day without screens. Don't you sometimes wish you could dream in sound only?


An old assigning-editor trick I developed: "In this story, you don't get to use the following words: x, y, z." Because if you read someone's copy long enough, you their language becomes a fingerprint.

Our brains reward us for creating neural pathways -- shortcut algorithms that allow us to process input and output with minimal caloric cost. I shit you not. I could find a link somewhere. So in a sense, this mental laziness might be biological. I know I fall prey to it (and isn't "fall prey" a cliche?).

My experience: When I removed words from a reporter's vocabulary before she wrote a story, I got better stories. Make a writer aware of an unconscious shortcut and they engage their active mind on that subject. Same with me: Janet points out my verbal ticks and the awareness makes me more alert generally.

I do make one distinction: I think there may be a difference between sloppy cliches that stand in for original thinking and figures of speech that just help us rapidly complete a complex thought. The "media bombard" is a great example of the former, but the latter is more like a DLL you plug in to complete a common task. Such as "running amok." They might as well be one word, even though "amok" doesn't require the modifier. Cleverly turning that expression ("wandering amok") creates a bright little blip for some readers, but it's actually distracting for others.

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