Snow and ice bring journalistic cliche to the whole of Britain
Before I retire from the pedantry business altogether, I draw the reader’s attention to the work of my fellow stickler (although he shows an unforgivable lenience towards the misuse of eponymous), Guy Keleny, in today’s Independent:
“Britain braces for weeks of transport chaos,” said the headline on yesterday’s cover story about the weather. Is there a single word that has been so devalued by journalistic overuse as “chaos”?
For a description of proper chaos, see Book II of Paradise Lost [right]. This is an eternal abyss of warring elements untouched by the ordering hand of the Creator. Long tailbacks on the M25 don’t get anywhere near it. The trouble is that “chaos” is a short word, and short words tend to elbow their way into headlines. So “chaos” has become a mere code for difficulties on the roads. One odd thing is that “chaos” happens only on the roads. Disruption of rail and air travel produces not “chaos” but “misery”.
Anyway, full marks to Jonathan Brown, the reporter who wrote the story. Here is his opening sentence: “Britain is gritting its teeth and its roads today in anticipation of the return of Arctic conditions, with heavy snow and ice-storms likely to bring wide-scale disruption.” He has made up his own word-play on “gritting”. He knows what “anticipation” means – not expecting something, but taking action about it. And he has called disruption disruption, not chaos.
Well, not quite full marks, perhaps. Marks will be deducted for “Arctic conditions”, “ice-storms” and “wide-scale”. But top marks for trying to avoid the worst of the blizzard of cliché.
Thanks to David Aaronovitch for the headline.Tagged in: pedantry
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