Published: 8 December, 2011
by RICHARD OSLEY
You couldn’t make it up. The genie is out of the bottle, this book review will be a game-changing, hard-wired, smoking gun.
A flatlining, damp squib.
Whichever, in a handful of opening words I have already mindlessly, thoughtlessly broken John Rentoul’s new rules of writing at least eight times.
Reporters be warned.
The Banned List – Rentoul’s new book subtitled A Manifesto Against Jargon And Cliché, literally a list of boring words too often used in the press and by politicians – is going to make ALL journalists feel a little small somewhere along the line, whichever paper you work for.
All of us will clip through these 100 pages (that’s stocking filler length) feeling accused at some point of dulling down your lives with the overuse of familiar words and phrases.
This is a good charge, some might say, for journalists, who tend to be know-it-alls with egos the size of Everest, but if the list of banned words here was prosecutable then it wouldn’t just be the phone hackers heading to jail.
We’d all be banged up in the cliché clink.
I know I’ve used “state of the art” to describe a new building in Camden once or twice in this paper, and I’d plead guilty to typing out “a raft of protests” and “war of words” before.
And who hasn’t thrown in some full stops.
Every now and then?
They are all banned here.
The Banned List began life in the offices of the Independent on Sunday to explain the groaning from the editor’s desk.
It is a valid exercise, putting down in one place all the words that the least imaginative stretch for.
Rentoul, the IoS’s chief comment writer, explains how the boredom generated by overfamiliar words slows the reader down, creating the impression that it has all been read before.
There are some obvious ones we would all want to sin-bin: cast-iron guarantee, copper-bottomed guarantee, going forward, postcode lottery, step change, heavy lifting, Clause Four moment, joined-up working and so on.
The mitigation for journalists is time.
In most newsrooms, particularly at local level, there is not the time to filter the worn words.
The pace of the working week means it is one story after another, and getting the news out there is of greater importance.
More guilty are the politicians, for speeches that are dulled by the overused.
How many more times does David Cameron want to tell us that a certain policy is part of the DNA of the Conservative Party?
That particularly sicky cliché was later, like a fast-spreading flu, borrowed by Gordon Brown.
Rentoul is right: there is too much “thinking outside the box”.
Too many countries have “maxed out” their credit cards. Too many ministers want to “draw a line in the sand”. Too many opposition politicians complain about “moved goalposts”.
All must have sounded sensible, or at least PR funky, when they were uttered genuinely for the first time.
Not any more.
• The Banned List: A Manifesto Against Jargon And Cliché. By John Rentoul. Elliott and Thompson, £8.99