“Picture-square? Pic-ture-squ-are?” He dragged out the word.
“I can’t believe it!” he added. I was dumbstruck.
Holding a photo aloft, he cried: “Look at this; you surely can’t miss the vibrant colours, the sharp reds, browns and oranges that spell the variety that mark the clay soils of the Scotland District?” He moved his head slowly from side to side, sighing at measured intervals, and suddenly exclaimed, “This is it; this is it!”
The ‘it’ was a close-up photo of one of the fruit laden trees that grew along the District. A yellow-breasted robin sucking on a large fully ripen orange-red mango brought alive the photo.
“Check out, that rich juice running down this mango and escaping that bird, I can taste and smell the sweetness of the fruit, by just looking at it?
“Can’t you? Then why do you describe my scenes as picture-square, every week. My photos are graphic in their story-telling and they aren’t even square.” he exploded in belly shaking laughter at his own lame joke.
I was relieved. My confusion over ‘picture-square’ was cleared and the tirade ended but the lessons remain today. I, a junior reporter then, had failed to complement his pictoral portrayal of Barbados’ countryside with energetic writing. Instead I had opted for laziness, for overworking words and phrases.
My colleague died many years ago, but thinking of him now, reminds me of his speeches about cliché behaviour. Any overused activity or notion was enough for him to reach for a soapbox. I recall him speaking to me about the Barbadian view that workmates often pay you tearful tributes at your funeral but almost immediately afterwards, wipe you from their memories. That is a myth, he said. I know because I remember Charlie, sometimes when I see a large dog, for these animals starred in his life; and when writing an article, that demands painting a scene with my words, his playful chiding comes into sharp focus.
As I recall that day, I note too that stereotyping is clique-ish at the core. It is a sign of laziness that we do not seek an adequate knowledge of someone, but rather blanket him/her under standardized group and expect him to behaviour in a prescribed manner. Thus we say: he lives in ‘x’ neighbourhood therefore he is involved in crime or will be involved in crime; she is from a certain race, so she is a lady.
Nothing is wrong with using well-placed cliches, or regular phrases, but it takes skill to do so with impact.
I have pet phrases though, like telling people that “I will not peep under myself” when they urge me to do something I consider as second guessing myself. I feel no other words can snap the images I want to send, with the precision that this phrase does. In any case, my pet phrases are part of my informal signature that also vividly conveys my feelings to my friends. However, I will not be tempted to say these expressions are also picturesque; I am fighting my addiction with that word.
- Editing and the overuse of words – make each word count (fcmalby.wordpress.com)
- The Learning Network Blog: Student Opinion | What Word Or Phrase Do You Overuse? (learning.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Friday Five: Phrases That Need To Die (sophisticatedspender.com)