An editor urged copy editors at The News & Observer to avoid seasonal cliches such as "'Tis the season" and "Deck the halls." I am all in favor of writers coming up with interesting new turns of phrase, but sometimes one man's cliche is another man's cultural lifebuoy.
John McIntyre's list is the source for my colleague's self-declared "war on Christmas." McIntyre is right about every one of those seasonal phrases. I myself would like for everyone to eschew "'Tis the season," but I don't like blanket bans on words and phrases. I once worked for an editor who never let us headline writer use "set" in a headline, as in "Board sets election date." It was a ridiculous rule, and as soon as I was out from under that editor's thumb, I used "set" every chance I got.
Beyond my natural inclination to rebel against a word ban, I see value in using phrases that are familiar to our readers. True, most of our readers nowadays don't know the reference to "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," and that's fine, too. But we can still evoke the past with our literary and cultural references. There is nothing wrong with alluding to Dickens or Gene Autry or C.S. Lewis. We are writing for a newspaper; it's a mass
media medium* (for the time being anyway), and we can share our common heritage. Just think how hard it is not to cry when the folks in Bedford Falls gather to sing "Auld Lang Syne" at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life."
Of course, the culture is shifting. We baby boomers who make allusions to the Beatles will give way to the Millennials who refer to Green Day or Kanye or Ghostface Killah. If the phrase fits, it will resonate with the readers it means to reach. By the way, I want some writer to work "Olive the Other Reindeer" or "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" into a story this season.
What do you think of seasonal cliches? Are you sick of "'Tis the season," "The Grinch" and "Bah, Humbug"? Please comment here or send me an e-mail message, email@example.com. I'll post the messages here.
* I discovered this error when I reread my post some time later.