Sensible, but wrong

Okay, part of this is simply a culture clash.  I don’t hang out with the kind of people who would use a phrase such as “shuddering connotations,” “anguished reflection” or “a sorry state of affairs.”  But it’s more than that. Orwell wrote, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.”  Here I am taking a slightly different position:  I’m not saying that Epstein is defending the indefensible — I have no idea what is defensible or not regarding the Ferguson, Mo., police department. Rather, I’m saying that his piling-on of cliches is a thoughtless style of writing that leads to serious errors.

Here’s my concern:  One trouble with using cliches is that you can end up writing false statements — statements you know are false — but you don’t realize it because you get caught in the flow of the writing.  This happens a lot, and it’s something that I see in scientific as well as journalistic writing. People use phrases that sound good, and sound sensible, and that seems to be enough.  But it’s not.

Andrew Gelman, “Politics and the English Language, 2014 Edition”


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