Every time I hear certain stock phrases, I feel uncomfortable. Ease of use, short syllables and unambiguous meaning make some phrases really popular than the others. But do we need them after they have been overused?
If you chat online, there is another spectrum of stock phrases you will encounter. But since chat/email/web, the online media, is such a mercurial medium, by the time you get used to one stock phrase, another has snaked its way in. (This is not to say I don’t use some stock phrases. I do, but I do try to not overuse them.)
It’s an inability of our imagination, individual or collective, to say nothing better than “100 percent” or “done” or “will do” or “sounds good” or – the worst phrase in my personal dictionary – “good for you”. (Aside: Does it mean it is not good for the speaker? Obviously. It is the most impersonal comment I’d let loose on anyone.) What do these words mean anymore?
They fare like kitchen rags, overused, tattered and their meaning lost through their fabric. We are collectively responsible for it. We live in a world of enthusiastic wordsmiths, who coin, create and coax out new words everyday yet the ones in use are hardly let off. I wish they could be laundered or discarded with the same enthusiasm through which they were used and accepted.
I remember my Creative Writing teacher telling a bunch of fresh graduates (including me) about how language had to be used in poetry. The example she used was “A Grief Ago” the name of a poem by Dylan Thomas. I understood that in poetry one needs to dislocate language a bit in order to make an impact. She didn’t use this particular term but this is how I remember it. I am aware that none of our lives is the stuff of poetry; not all of us are required to write poetry unless it’s your calling; not all of us can claim to have a poetic bone in our bodies unless of course you do; not all of us care either. Isn’t it precisely a good reason to dislocate language for everyday use? Who said we have to stick to the safe everyday phrases? Can we risk the boring for the new? Can we not say something original when we can? Can we risk going over the edge metaphorically?
I understand that there are way more important things to spend time on than pay attention to overused phrases. But words shape our world. (Try thinking without the framework of language. It’s difficult but possible but not particularly comfortable.) To try to change words is to try to change our world. It is definitely time to change the words.