Much has been written in The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine about the intricacies of the human brain. From the sensitive cerebral cortex to the spongy frontal lobes, neurosurgeons and brain researchers have delved deeply into how and why the brain functions.
Because of their cutting edge research, these grey-matter miners yield key nuggets of information about epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease, and other maladies that continue to plague humanity.
There is, however, one genetic marker, resistant to research, that has set up shop in the DNA molecules residing on the Big Double Helix. This serious speaking and writing faux pas works its hackneyed way through human bloodlines, cropping up in certain families. Geneticists call this mismatched pair of molecules OWP: Overused Words & Phrases.
We writing and public speaking teachers call it Cliché acide: Death of Audience.
My mother is a carrier of this gene, but unfortunately, because of large amounts of fried okra and grits she was fed as a Southern child, her DNA strand mutated, forever rendering her a cliché nightmare.
As children, we would look the other way as she approached the checkout counter at the U-Save Market.
Did you find everything you were looking for Mrs. Block?
No, I was up the creek without a way to get down.
Mom, you meant up the creek without a paddle.
This type of interplay continues to this very day.
We writing teachers, like those careful neurosurgeons, spend hours with our red pens as pick-axes, Chipping, Chopping, and at times, crudely Hacking at clichés, but instead of unearthing cures and progress, extracting insight and originality, our subterranean dig scoops up more of the same, day in and day out.
To emphasize to my students the disease that OWP is, I teach Shakespeare, lauding the Bard’s original use of language.
“OK, my pretties, my little 9th grade monkeys, today let us study the famous Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet. Let us consider Mercutio’s metaphor that …”dreams are the children of an idle brain.”
Mrs. Sabraw, I don’t want to seem like, clueless, but like, didn’t Shakespeare have a lot more opportunity for original language, because, like, there weren’t as many writers or books, in like, say, his time?
The mine explodes. I am trapped once again. Oxygen is at a premium.
Extracting clichés is as hard as a rock, right Mom?
Mom. Mixed metaphors for another day, another essay.