As we reach the end of 2012, Liberator’s judges have been deliberating over a heavily contested field for the coveted title of ‘Cliché of the Year’.
Last year’s winner was The mess left by Labour, which fought off a stiff challenge by the ever-popular Elephant in the room and It’s a big ask. However, the awards were mired in controversy because of the judges’ decision to disqualify Alarm Clock Britain. This phrase had all the makings of a cliché but failed to become one because the only person who used it was Nick Clegg. Banality is not enough; a true cliché needs an excess of wear and tear.
Sadly, the Liberal Democrats did not learn their lesson and attempted to rig the competition again this year by producing a long list of ‘messages’. The party must learn that the best clichés are born, not made.
At least the Liberal Democrats did not perform as badly as the Conservatives or Labour. Chillax was well on the way to becoming a cliché until David Cameron used it and instantly killed it off. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband’s attempt to enter the field by reviving that old chestnut one nation did not even get off the starting blocks.
And so to the winners for 2012.
Sixth place is awarded to omnishambles. This was a brilliant creation when originally coined for the TV sitcom The Thick Of It. Subsequent overuse ensured that, by the end of the year, it was completely worn out.
Fifth place is taken by the claim of politicians to send a strong message. The judges were impressed by the combination of earnestness and meaninglessness. Users’ desire to send a strong message is matched only by their inability to send one.
In fourth place is iconic. Anything that is vaguely traditional, famous or popular has been elevated to the status of the Taj Mahal (the original, not your local curry house). Here’s a clue: If you have to describe or explain something, it is not iconic.
And now to the medal positions (and one must be careful here not to resort to the year’s new Olympic verb, to medal).
Third place goes to festive, used indiscriminately as an all-purpose adjective applied to anything remotely to do with Christmas. A special mention must go to Transport for London, whose e-mail circular earlier this month about disruptions to public transport during the holiday began, “I am writing to advise you about getting around London during the festive period.”
Second place is awarded to the word passionate for its ubiquity in TV cookery programmes. No contestant in any of the variants of Masterchef can hope to progress to the next round of the competition without claiming to be ‘passionate’ about food or cooking. Mere interest, ambition or enthusiasm won’t do. The hosts of every other TV cookery show are just as bad. It is not enough to like turnips; one must be ‘passionate’ about them.
There is a useful linguistic rule when it comes to expressing emotions: show, don’t tell. If anyone were genuinely passionate, it would be self-evident and should not need spelling out. But when anybody claims “I am passionate,” one doubts their word.
And finally, this year’s winner is [drum roll...] all of the clichés used by Nick Clegg in his recent speech to CentreForum. It was a truly bravura performance, and the judges could find no better example of what George Orwell called “staleness of imagery”. In the space of a few minutes, we were treated to “modern Britain”, “the centre ground”, “we’ve embraced the challenge”, “we’ve been on a journey”, all rounded off with the three-in-one genius of “there are no easy answers, no silver bullets, only tough choices”. Ambassador, with these clichés, you are really spoiling us.
What are the prizes for the winners? Ideally, each cliché should be permanently retired. As should the third-rate marketing and media hacks who perpetuate them.
If you fancy winning next year’s prize, do make copious use of these banned words and phrases.