Once again, a cliche-addled football article is driving me to chronicle overused metaphors. But we're going to do things differently today. Earlier this summer, Doug at pro-football-reference.com suggested that rather than simply pointing out the bad writing, I present alternative good writing. It's sound advice: it's pretty easy to document overused cliches, but it could be more challenging--and constructive--to show how new, fresh metaphors add to one's writing. So that's what we're doing: I'll look at a column filled with wornout metaphors, and I'll try to write new, creative metaphors to replace them.
Before I go on in this effort, let me add one suggestion for using cliches. If you are going to use a figure of speech that you know is overused, just use the word "proverbial" before you use it. For example, instead of simply writing "Lloyd Carr is on the hot seat," as so many people are writing, write "Lloyd Carr is on the proverbial hot seat." This at least shows some self-awareness in your use of language, and calls attention to the widespread use of the phrase. It's easy: you don't have to take the effort to create a fresh metaphor, but you don't have to blithely use dead language.
Moving on, today we look at Don Banks' recent "Snap Judgments" column. I'll show the original phrase from Banks' column in italics, highlight the overused metaphor, and present an alternative metaphor.
"That's when you know the games are about to start counting, and you can feel the pressure cooker building."
Let's stay in the kitchen and alienate younger readers: "you can hear the Jiffy Pop kernels bursting, getting ready to bust open the tinfoil all over the stovetop."
"We're not ready to call and put the kibosh on the Super Bowl parade planned for downtown Boston just yet"
I'm not sure what a kibosh really is; I know that Crazy Joe Davola threatened to put the kibosh on Jerry Seinfeld. Let's try this: "We're not ready to put a red light on the Super Bowl parade in downtown Boston, but that light is yellow and the Patriots are going to have to punch the gas pedal to get through it." A little forced? Yeah. But a wonderful way to bring new life to old cliches to to expand them. My favorite such expansion of a metaphor is in Jerry Seinfeld's SeinLanguage, where he compares a relationship to the cheese on a slice of pizza that won't snap off. He then writes, "Of course you could always just eat your pizza with a knife and fork, but I think this is clearly what's known as 'pushing the cheese analogy.'"
"safety Rodney Harrison, has been humbled and placed on the shelf for four games"
"and preserved in a Mason jar, sealed up for four games until it's time to spread him on the toast."
"The temptation to cut corners in the rehabilitation process will always be there"
"The temptation to skip Hamlet and just check Sparknotes in the..."
"and Harrison knew that the train moves on without you in the NFL if"
"and Harrison knew that the NFL is like the Wizard's balloon, ready to take off without Dorothy if she's too busy saying her goodbyes, or if she sprains her ankle in those shiny ruby slippers and can't get back on the football field very quickly." Why not a cultural reference?
"If Harrison, an Ed Block winner, is willing to roll the dice on the"
If we want to stick with gambling imagery, how about "is willing to try fill an inside straight."
"Patriots defensive line without Seymour in the lineup for six games isn't dead in the water."
"isn't Louis XVI staring at the guillotine, but you can hear the revolutionaries hollering outside the royal palace." I love historical references, especially if a lot of people aren't going to get it.
"I realize the Patriots have Vinny Testaverde's cell phone on speed dial, and"
Do cell phones even have speed dial? Cell phones just have numbers programmed in--it's all speed dial, baby. Let's be timely. How about "have Vinny Tesaverde in their Five on their cell phone plan."
"I couldn't help but wonder when Del Rio wasn't shooting entirely straight with us, then or now?"
Pick a politician that has very publicly been caught in a lie. Write your own joke.
"I still can't get over how far Ron Rivera has fallen off the radar screen after coming fairly close to landing an NFL head coaching job early this year."
This bit is about Rivera being Chicago defensive coordinator, nearly getting a head coaching job, and ending up San Diego's inside linebacker coach. Let's go with "After coming fairly close to landing an NFL head coaching job, Rivera has been stripped of his rank and busted back down to private." Why not? Military imagery is everywhere in football. I don't even know if I've gotten the terminology right (see my name), but do you get the idea?
"If there's a train wreck waiting to happen early in the NFL this season"
Bill Simmons, often adept at picking up on overused cliches and replacing them, has already done our work. In his recent fantasy football article, he describes Rex Grossman as "a potential midair plane collision playing QB. (Note: I'm tired of the phrase "train wreck," we need to start mixing it up.)" I like to see his attempt to defy conventional language and try something new.
Trying to think up creative, new metaphors took more time than it takes just to write down the obvious cliche. But does it add something to the reading? Would you find a writer using these new, occasionally esoteric metaphors more interesting, entertaining, and illuminating? Or do you prefer a writer like Banks, using the tired cliches? Do some of my revisions fail? Are there any you like? Has this been worth the effort?