The Art Of Avoiding Clichés

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I don’t normally watch hockey. As a native southerner, I can only stray so far from my roots. I’ve betrayed my geographical DNA enough by being an IndyCar fan in the south, which is unheard of for someone who isn’t a transplant. To embrace another sport that until recently had no foothold in the south would have raised eyebrows enough to question my lineage. It’s bad enough that I like polish sausage and sauerkraut, while despising black-eyed peas and lima beans.

I did, however, catch most of yesterday’s Olympic hockey game between the US and Canada. It was a great game, even though the US came out on the losing end in overtime. I enjoyed it, but didn’t really know what I was watching. I found myself a bit lost in the terminology. I mean…what exactly is icing and what are those blue lines for anyway?

I am enough of a hockey novice that I don’t even know who the announcers were, but I liked them. Maybe it was because the action was so fast, they didn’t have time for much idle chit-chat; but I noticed their delivery was very much lacking any of the trendy phrases of today that has worked its way into so many announcer’s booths.

Sports announcers walk a thin line, these days. It is a tough job to develop a signature phrase without having it sound too contrived. Some of the old broadcasting legends had catchphrases that they made their own. No one knew if this was just something that evolved or whether it was something they developed on purpose. Today’s announcers seem to be too caught up in either trying too hard to come up with memorable lines, or speaking in dialect that is reserved for sixteen year-olds.

Some of the legendary sports phrases are sometimes more famous than the announcers themselves. Longtime NY Yankees broadcaster, Mel Allen, was so well known for his exclamation of a great play – “How about that!” – that many of today’s fans recognize the phrase without knowing the origin. Dick Enberg’s trademark for years has been a simple “Oh, my!” One of my longtime favorites, Pat Summerall, had more of a signature style. The more tense the situation became, the more understated he was. Summerall mastered the art of saying nothing and not getting in the way of the moment. Some have expressed annoyance at Paul Page’s “rejoining the fight” as drivers left the pits, but I didn’t mind it.

Many of today’s announcers and color analysts make the mistake of thinking that THEY are the stars and the reason that viewers and listeners tune in. You needn’t look any further for a more vivid example than Darrell Waltrip on Fox’s NASCAR coverage. From his boogity-boogity-boogity cries to his irritating on-air cheerleading, he seems to think that HIS opinions, comments and tiresome style are the reason that viewers tune in. Fortunately, he is complimented by Mike Joy, who I think is one of the best in the business.

Unfortunately, others in NASCAR try to imitate Waltrip. Rusty Wallace is even more irritating because he comes off as a poor man’s copy of DW (talk about an insult).

While Waltrip has certainly made “boogity” his trademark, it comes off as completely contrived and not genuine. It feels as if someone in the Fox marketing department told him to try it. But at least he started something unique, as bad as it may be. Irritating race announcing is not limited to NASCAR, however. ESPN has been handing us some who have tried a little too hard for acceptance, for years (Can you say Todd Harris?).

So many of today’s broadcasters resort to the latest clichés. Many of these trendy phrases have come and gone over the years, as the cliché of the moment would change. Some of my favorites (with tongue sarcastically planted in cheek), in no particular order are:

It is what it is. Just what exactly does that mean? Of course it is. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be.

At the end of the day… This cliché isn’t reserved for broadcasters. Danica Patrick’s overuse of this phrase has taken interview soundbites to a whole new (low) level.

It’s all good. Why do you never believe anyone saying that? Generally, they are saying it when they are discussing something bad that just happened.

Thrown under the bus. This was Todd Harris’s personal favorite. I know the general meaning behind it, but where did this phrase come from? It just appeared one day, and then everyone started saying it for no apparent reason.

A perfect storm. Ever since George Clooney made a mediocre movie with WAY too much water in it, this phrase caught on quickly to describe a series of events that came together at just the right time to produce an usual outcome. Sort of like “Tony George’s ouster from IMS was due to a perfect storm of events”. The term is not that bad of an analogy, but it has gotten way too much airtime to maintain its effectiveness.

I’m just sayin’… I actually heard Larry McReynolds use this one a couple of weeks ago. It came off so poorly that he felt the need to explain, “it’s the new saying these days”.

Been there, done that. Although this one first surfaced over fifteen years ago, it still seems to make its way into a broadcast booth every now and then. Use of this former trendy saying should be grounds for immediate termination.

24 / 7. See above.

Actually… I never considered this a cliché until I noticed that Scott Goodyear used it in every other sentence. Maybe it’s his signature phrase. He actually needs to come up with another one.

One game (or race) at a time. This is probably the most overused cliché in sports. It isn’t so much used by broadcasters. Instead it is usually the participants that are guilty of this transgression.

One hundred and ten percent. Please.

Pushing the envelope. This one is overused in most sports, but it actually has its place in racing since that is what generally makes the difference in winning and losing.

There are other buzzwords and trendy sayings that haven’t worked their way into the sports and racing lexicon, but I find them quite annoying, just the same. Examples of a few of these are…

Absolutely. This is one of my pet peeves (of which, I have many). It’s an irritating word that I come across in my everyday life in the corporate world. Business seminars teach young, soon-to-be executives to use words like “absolutely” as much as possible, because it is one of the “power words”. Every answer must begin with the word “absolutely”. It has become as overused as the word “awesome” and it ABSOLUTELY makes me cringe.

How is that working out for you? I found this one to be semi-humorous the first couple of hundred times I heard it. But then, like they all do…it became copied, contrived and overused. Now it just makes the person saying it come off as an unoriginal smart-aleck.

Good luck with that. I hear this one in everyday life a lot, especially as a sarcastic response to an idea I just suggested.

Outside the box. Not even worth discussing.

No problem. I will show my age with this one, as this is a common term for most under the age of thirty. When someone from my generation does something nice for me, my usual response is to say “Thank you”, to which they generally reply with “You’re welcome” or something to that effect. Lately though, the game has changed. For example – if I’m dining and I ask my server to bring another drink, my expression of gratitude is met with the terse response of “ No problem”. Had I thought it was going to be a problem, I never would have asked them to do it. It comes off as rude and self-serving.

I know that this is not my usual type of article, but I absolutely stepped outside of the box to push the envelope on this one. These thoughts have actually been swirling in my head like a perfect storm, for some time. I’m just sayin’ that I always take it one article at a time and always give one hundred and ten percent, 24/7. But at the end of the day, it is what it is and it’s all good. No problem.

Now, please don’t throw me under the bus.

George Phillips

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19 Responses to “The Art Of Avoiding Clichés”

  1. Random Hero Says:

    You forgot “That guy”, awful cliche’ that one.

  2. Carnegie was the best at original one liners. “He hit her a ton” and “Andretti is slowing down” Both of those you were almost guaranteed to hear on race day.

  3. H. B. Donnelly Says:

    two words: “wooooooah nellie!” (Keith Jackson, natch)

    and two more for my friends from the Indianapolis area: “booom baby!” (Pacers color commentator — and former NCAA champ with my Hoosiers — Bobby Leonard)

  4. Rich Bruchal Says:

    Crash Davis: It’s time to work on your interviews.
    Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?
    Crash Davis: You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: “We gotta play it one day at a time.”
    Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play… it’s pretty boring.
    Crash Davis: ‘Course it’s boring, that’s the point. Write it down.

  5. Thanks George, you manamged to eviscerate a large share of my standard vocabulary.

    Grand. (at least I still have that one at my disposal)

  6. Lately, “Any Publicity is Good Publicity.”

  7. Travis R Says:

    Well said, George! I am also really annoyed by sports announcers and newscasters who think the show is all about them. Why do so many of them have to yell all the time? Just tell me what just happened – I don’t need your opinion, political slant, or analysis. I don’t watch the news, just for this reason. For example, in football – just tell me who made the play, how many yards were gained, and what down it is. About the only guys I do actually like are the ones who were former head coaches – they seem to have a little bit more to offer.

    I couldn’t agree more about Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace. They were two of many reasons I got away from watching NASCAR. Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety, but I even find Jack Arute to be annoying. The days of Paul Page covering Indy were before I started watching regularly, but he does a pretty good job with the NHRA coverage. You can tell who he’s a fan of, but he works well with Mike Dunn.

    My favorite commentators are actually the SPEED guys who cover F1, Varsha, Hobbs, and Matchett. I think part of that is because they’re sitting back in the studio in North Carolina (I believe) watching the live feed just like the rest of us – at the wee hours of the morning. It’s like having 3 knowledgeable guys with a good sense of humor sitting in your living room with you, drinking coffee and watching the race. Other than having Peter Windsor at the Grand Prix, they really have no more control over the camera angles, replays, or data than I do. Sometimes, you can tell the early morning schedule has its effect – they can be downright slap-happy at times, and it’s even more fun!

  8. I hate it when golf announcers say “that’s a good golf shot.” What other kind of shot would it be? I hate it when announcers (or reporters) ask a competitor (or house fire victim) “how do you feel right now?” And I agree that the “that guy” phrase is the most overused phrase of the year already.

    • But, redd — if the announcers didn’t qualify it with “golf” shot, we might mistakingly think they’re referring to a greenside “polio” shot. Or a “musket rifle” shot from the bunker. Or perhaps a “half-court” shot for the win.

      I, for one, appreciate them clarifying it for me.

      (And for the record, upon hearing ANYONE say “at the end of the day,” I instantly seize with rage. I am not proud of this.)

      • Mike Davis Says:

        Include me in on the clarification comment. I might think it was a “Jack Daniel shot” – “at the end of the day”.

        Regards,
        Mike D

  9. Andy Bernstein Says:

    That really took your column to the next level…but it’s better than re-runnung an old one, and expecting a different result ;}

  10. As a Chicago fan, I had the joy of growing up with Harry Carey (it could be, it might be, IT IS!) and listening to Blackhawks games (…AND A SAVE!). I care less about an announcer’s so-called “catch-phrases”, and more about their style. No need to be overly excited all the time, or act like what everyone’s watching is always some epic struggle. Instead, the best of them will increase their rate and tone of voice if something exciting happens, yet still describe it so the viewers/listeners can follow along.

    btw, you want any hockey questions answered, feel free to email. always willing to help new hockey fans, despite my extreme dislike for the Preds :-)

  11. Mike Silver Says:

    You hit a home run with this spot on column. You sure came to write today. I hope at the end of the day everyone reads this and is good with it. If they aren’t, maybe you’ll get ‘em next time

  12. how about “I’m sorry” or “I’m (pick one) quitting, moving, changing, retiring, leaving, not speaking, entering rehab–to spend more time with my family.”

  13. I thought that your last paragraph was “just too funny” (that’s another cliche from out of my past somewhere). I enjoy your interesting blog. I always check it out after reading Curt Cavin and PressDog. Looking forward to your take on the IndyCar season as it rolls along.

  14. If you feel like doing a Google search sometime, look up The Sports Curmudgeon. Frank Deford does it as a column once a year or so. It’s very funny and he hits a lot of the same notes. If you get the ones from NPR, you get the audio of him reading the column, and (I find) it’s even funnier.

  15. FordGT40 Says:

    How could you forget “Reach up thar and pull ‘em belts tight one more time!” by that Charlie Brown looking hillbilly sidekick of the Ultra annoying DW. Fox’s NASCAR coverage is easily the worst of all time. They seem to be paid by the word as well judging by the constant chatter.

  16. Some of the items listed by George aren’t clichés or catchphrases. “I’m just sayin’”, “actually” and “absolutely” are fillers. They fill the speaker’s emptiness.

    Catchphrases are memorable and trademarked: Homer’s “d’oh”, Arnold’s “I’ll come back”. I like some, e.g. Latin America’s ESPN announcer Andrés Agulla’s “¡a lo que vinimos!” when the green flag is waved. Once everyone uses them the whole time, they become clichés nearly forever.

    “No need to be overly excited all the time, or act like what everyone’s watching is always some epic struggle. Instead, the best of them will increase their rate and tone of voice if something exciting happens, yet still describe it so the viewers/listeners can follow along.”

    Exactly! Announcer must make pauses, go up and down and slow and fast like a rolleroaster, depending on what happens at the race / match.

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