There are many of them that are still in vogue, even though they have outlived their usefulness. The language masters and purists advise that they should be used sparingly or be dumped because they are stale and now considered as clichés, worn out words that have lost their bite owing to overuse. The English pragmatists tag them as hackneyed expressions that have no place in modern or the new English. It’s sickening to hear people still recycling statements such as ‘a bolt from the blues’, ‘blazing inferno’, and ‘beat a hasty retreat’, for instance, over and over again. We can do without these spent forces and concentrate more on writing simple and straightforward sentences. Agreed that we want to create that mental picture in the readers’ mind or vividly paint a scenario to bring to life one’s thought and opinion, still one can do it without falling cheap to the over laboured and tired maxims.
Consider these statements that frequently adorn our newspaper pages and sometimes take up scarce airtime space that could have been put to better use rather than waste time repeating old and out of favour expressions; ‘acid test,’ ‘armed to the teeth’, ‘brutal reminder’, ‘all walks of life’, ‘burning issue’, ‘from time immemorial’, and so on. The writer, journalist or the reporter attempts always to flavour his/her report or write up with the sense of strong feeling by dressing or couching them in figures of speech or axioms that are outdated. One should tread softly or apply caution in the choice of words to avoid sounding primitive, stale and old-fashioned, if one must be taken seriously. When tempted to bring in or infuse old sayings of our elders or figures of speech in your writing, to make them livelier, consider the current usage or break them down to the understanding of the man in the street, for example, the phrase ‘acid test’, can simply be translated or broken down to its simpler form to mean a decisive test that establishes the worth or credibility of something, the dictionary states.
‘Armed to the teeth,’ simply write, ‘the army was fully armed’ ready to match the bandits fire for fire. Similarly, the statements ‘brutal reminder’, ‘all walks of life’, ‘burning issue’, ‘from time immemorial’, now treated as unworthy of our attention because they carry the tags of clichés can be turned around and freshened. Rather than speak, ‘brutal reminder’, one can simply state, for instance, ‘sad reminder’ of the past civil war where thousands of lives were lost. ‘All walks of life’ expression, tired as it appears, can be substituted with straightforward statements such as; they came from the different sectors or strata of the economy. ‘Burning issue’, another redundant phrase can as well give way to issue of the day, or any other form you may wish to couch it to give one that sense of urgency.
Yet, ‘from time immemorial,’ another stale and good-for-the waste bin expression can effortlessly be replaced with ‘in the past’, or ‘in/from the beginning’. Remember, the language is not cast in gold; flexibility in the spoken or written word is allowed so long as the rules guiding the standard English are not compromised. Another area of concern is the insistence by some of our writers, including media men and women to write and sound differently from the standard we know and willingly adopted by the mainstream media organizations in the country. Those concerned have open themselves to, ‘anything goes’, in the use of English, besides the general consensus that the British English is the standard and nothing else. Suddenly, words such as ‘flavour, colour, saviour, labour, savour, rigour, vigour’, amongst others are spelt without the letter ‘u’, just as ‘programme’ is spelt, shoving aside the double ‘mm’ to single ‘m’ without the letter ‘e’, now shortened to read ‘program’. Till date, it has not been accepted among English speaking countries, especially Nigeria as the standard spelling. Let’s keep to the standard spelling in all forms. Don’t betray the language, unless the masters and purists or inventors of the spoken and written English think otherwise.