When a Nation Forgets Its Own Clichés . . .

. . . well, that’s just sad.

The hardworking staff has plied the differently clichéd beat for quite some time now, but this week we had our first twofer: A pair of mangled phrases in the course of one day.

Begin with this piece from Boston Magazine’s Boston Daily blog about Marked Mark Wahlberg and his quest to eradicate his entirely racist past.

Is he nuts? graf:

Upon hearing the news that Wahlberg was looking to be forgiven for his role in assaulting a man with a wooden club and punching another man in the face, back in 1988 during a Dorchester Avenue robbery, The Blackstonian drudged up other allegations about the the burger joint-owning Hollywood star—namely, his excessive use of the “n-word,” and the harassment of black residents at the time.

Traditionally, people dredge up allegations, but maybe BoMag reporter Steve Annear was alluding to the bottom-feeding Drudge Report.


Later that day, we heard this on PRI’s The World:

People have been calling on President Obama to make due on his promise to close Guantanamo.

Not to get technical about it, but people make good on a promise. Or a promise comes due.

Not both.

Whatever, here are some other recently mangled phrases.

• From Politico last month, in a piece about a joint press conference with President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping:

[W]hen a New York Times reporter posed a series of questions to both Obama and Xi, the U.S. president responded to the queries directed to him, but the Chinese president initially failed to respond to the questions put to him about the U.S. pivot to Asia and about refusal of residence permits for U.S. journalists working in China.

Instead, a Chinese press aide called on a Chinese reporter who asked a stilted question of Xi, producing a protracted, prepared statement from the Chinese leader.

The unexpected move produced a quizzical look from Obama, who seemed to think his hosts might have pulled one over on him.

Put one over on him, perhaps. Pulled one off, definitely.

(Recommended reading: John McWhorter’s Gray Matter piece in last Sunday’s New York Times headlined “Why Save a Language?”

(Why indeed.)

• Boston Herald headline last month, in a story about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid luring Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the Democratic leadership with a Potemkin position:

Reid plays Liz like a chump with new post


He either played her like a violin, or played her for a chump.

There’s no third way, as Sam Spade might put it.

• Splendid reader Mike Barry contributed this one from an October Toronto Star piece about Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel’s lack of fitness in the season opener.

“Obviously we want to be better,” said Kessel. “There’s 81 more to go. I think it’s a little too soon to jump on the gun.”

Yeah, but . . .

You either jump the gun or – we dunno – fall on your sword?


• Headline from the September 30 New York Times:

Twangy Homilies About Shouldering Through the Pain

Shouldn’t that be soldiering through the pain?

Just askin’.

• PRI’s The World in August about Kate Bush returning to the concert tour after a 35-year absence:

She really does beat to her own drum.

Roll your own.

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3 Responses to When a Nation Forgets Its Own Clichés . . .

  1. Steve Stein says:

    Another explanation(?) for PRI’s “make due”. Were they thinking of “make do”? The usage is still inappropriate, but maybe that’s the source of the confusion.

  2. Bill says:

    I’ve said it here before, and I will say it again: you really, really need to get these folks to “tow the line” on proper use of cliches.

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