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Linguistic Slovenliness as a Failure of Thought

Speech can be precise, even eloquent, but it can also be slovenly, promiscuous, and maladroit. One sign of linguistic maladroitness is the constant recurrence to clichés of all sorts, as often happens in media language and the blather of politicians. Take the following factitious example:

“The low-hanging fruit can be picked anytime and canned, but just remember not to kick the can down the road because at the end of the day the fact is is that you’ll bump up against the bottom line, which could be a slippery slope that’ll drop you over the fiscal cliff.”

On one hand, the use of clichés is understandable because it facilitates a type of linguistic parsimony and compactness that lend themselves to an economy of communication. On the other hand, habitual recurrence to formulas and buzz words invariably abuts in a species of mental slovenliness that betokens a failure of thought, which is why it ought to be avoided at all costs.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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