Monday, September 13, 2010

Mrs. U, Get out your red pen

It was in high school that I first learned the word “trite.” Old Mrs. U, our quirky Senior English teacher, used to write the word in bold letters all over my papers, because my teenage brain obviously had trouble coming up with original thoughts.

In case you don’t know, trite means overused, or cliché. And now that I’m working on the first draft of my book, I often wonder how many trite phrases I’m unintentionally using in my writing. If Mrs. U read it, would it again be returned to me with the dreaded word written in her red pen? Surely I’ve matured in my writing – surely I have more imagination and more ambition? But then again, aren’t we just a world of clichés?

I mean, in a world of nearly 7 billion people, what are the odds that any of our thoughts are truly unique? Sure, we’re unique individuals, but aren’t we just made up of common experiences and common thoughts? What are the odds that this sentence has never been written before? Or thought before? Or spoken before? Just how unique can any of us truly be?

But back to clichés. Here are my two least favorites. I hate when people say “Everything happens for a reason.” People tend to say that to console others when bad things happen to them. My response usually is, “Maybe, but not necessarily for a good reason!” I mean, duh. Things happen because of life. Things happen because of the passage of time while we’re on this planet. Things happen because things just happen. I don’t need some stupid cliché to try to explain it.

And my second least favorite cliché is when people say that someone has “lost their battle with cancer.” Commentators on TV say it with requisite seriousness and it just makes me cringe. It’s the same feeling I get when people say that someone “passed away.” We seem to need trite phrases to soften the blow – to describe things that are difficult to talk about – to hide the reality in the comfort of humdrum words. I could never use that phrase when I talked about my mom’s death. She didn’t just pass away; she died – and glossing it over with an overused expression didn’t give her the respect she deserved.

But I don’t mean to be a Negative Nellie or a stick in the mud, so I’ll make a clean sweep and quit running off at the mouth. (Enough pearls of wisdom for today, even though I’ve only scratched the surface of the world of clichés.) So, back to my Pollyanna outlook that comes from growing up in the sticks. I’m now going to call it a day and get out of here. George and I are going to seize the day and head for the park. After all, the best things in life are free, right?

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