Friday, August 27, 2010

Trite On

When writing, the trite, in the words of William Safire and others, is to be avoided like the plague. From the moment the would-be writer walks into a writing class or opens a book on the art of writing, he is reminded that the trite and banal will suck all life from his composition. The admonishments to shun the trite are repeated so often they almost become trite themselves. But if a writer wants the reader to think about what he has written, it is only fair that he give more than a little thought to how he writes it.

This rule does not apply, however, to the talking heads and loudmouth yakkers of the electronic media, who are as comfortable slipping well-worn phrases into their broadcasts as they are slipping their feet into a pair of well-worn shoes. For them, all accidents are unforeseen accidents, all gifts are free gifts, all surprises are unexpected surprises, and nothing happens now, everything takes place at this point in time.

TV and radio executives encourage the lackadaisical use of language because they want to give news programs a more conversational tone and create the illusion that everything the anchor, reporter or commentator says comes off the top of his stylishly coifed head. Broadcasters believe the reporter with notes in hand has less credibility than the reporter who appears to be winging it.

The insipid chatter also prevents the audience from being distracted by an incisive comment or clever turn of phrase. If the viewer is given something to think about, he might think about it right through all the important messages from the sponsor.

Unfortunately, books, newspapers and magazines are being mortally wounded by the ten-second bursts of words fired from the mouths of TV personalities. The electronic media has discarded verbal artistry and replaced it with prepackaged phrases, hoping that in time every utterance will be uttered with dependable sameness. Regardless of the topic, or whether the comment is made in Poughkeepsie, Punxsutawney, Paducah, Peoria, Pocatello or Pomona, the goal is to have the mix of words be like the special sauce on a Big Mac: always the same. People with a way with words are distrusted, thought to be con men. Commenting on the common in an uncommon way creates suspicion. Americans are encouraged to be in awe of celebrities who sport seventy-five word vocabularies.

With that in mind, perhaps I should imitate a well-known alleged news outfit and insert the following after every paragraph I write: "Tom Harris: Perceptive and witty - I give the facts; you chuckle."

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