Cliché Creep:  The Dissolution of the Real

As we spend more and more time online and less time actually interacting physically with each other, I’ve noticed an interesting linguistic trend. Basic biological Anglo-Saxon verbs are becoming virtualized. What used to be tangible and concrete is now in danger of becoming jargon. Think of “hooking up” and “getting in touch” or even “looking into it.” The palpable sensory reality of these terms has disintegrated.

Take for example the phrase, “reaching out.” Every day I get e-mail and texts from people indicating that they are now “reaching out” or have in the past “reached out” to me with some type of offer (often a randrom request to buy into a franchise plan or to sell insurance). I admit I am a highly kinesthetic type of person, with a passion for texture and aroma and the subtleties of concrete reality. I love the stickiness of raw dough as I knead it, the grainy moist solidity of dirt between my fingers, and the silkiness of fragrant massage oils. When I think of “reaching out,” I mean literally extending my arms and hands with the expectation of a warm and breathing being soon within my grasp.

Now everyday in blogs and articles social media gurus are advising that we “reach out” and shake up our target markets, or “reach out” and call some fact to someone’s attention. I want someone to “reach out” and save me from drowning in this cliché. Instead of saying, “I am reaching out to you with this offer,” why can’t we say, “I am writing to you” or “contacting you” or “you might be interested…”

I am haunted by a recurring vision of a family I watched eating dinner at a restaurant last year.  Mother, Father, son and daughter were all variously engaged with phones or tablets or ipads. The entire time they were supposedly sharing a meal together, they were actually miles away in their minds, “reaching out” to friends or coworkers or fellow students. Not once did anyone in that family literally reach out to another family member–passing the salt, offering a taste, or–gasp!–enjoying a real-time verbal conversation with each other.

Novel expressive metaphors are valuable because they enhance our language. But using phrases in a way that removes the blood and color and sensation from verbs that once had significant meaning devalues language, culture, and even our human natures. So, if you agree, I invite you to “reach out” and press the “Like” button. Take a stand!

(First published in LinkedIn Pulse, September 2015)

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