Time to Update Our Clichés?

[starbox]Evolving language and out-of-touch “seniors” not understanding it have been popular topics with stand-up comedians for many years. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I found their routines hilarious. Now that I am old I still find them amusing but worry that changes in lifestyle and technology are resulting in a generation that doesn’t understand some of our basic clichés and concepts.

This concern came to light with a story a friend told at a standards committee meeting. She was teaching a group of young women to sail and it wasn’t going well. To clarify things, she instructed one student to turn the winch handle “clockwise” — and was met with a blank stare. The girl claimed to have never seen an analog clock! Seems like a stretch to me but I suppose it is possible for a person under 20 to only see digital clocks; the same with rotary — or even push-button phones. Neither of my adult children have ever had a “land line” in their apartments. Lily Tomlin’s “Ernestine” routine is lost on them.

Aside from the obvious dangers of not understanding basic rotational direction, we run a risk of our children and grandchildren missing the meaning in common clichés. Can someone who has never gardened appreciate something being a “tough row to hoe?” How many times have you winced at it being pronounced a “tough ROAD to hoe?” Is some of the enjoyment lost from an old detective movie when you have to explain what it meant to “drop a dime” on someone who has never seen, much less used, a pay phone?

Much of the beauty in literature is the use of colorful analogies to draw the reader into familiarity with the characters and events. Every Sunday school or Shakespeare teacher knows how difficult it is to “translate” out-of-date analogies for a modern audience. In the same way, our ancestors would be baffled by the current reliance on sports references in other areas of life.

How many common sayings no longer make sense? Should there be a “sunset” rule for clichés? I plan to be a little more careful in assuming my audience will understand what I am saying.

About Charles D. Schultz 644 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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