Real people in real conversations rarely use as many hackneyed phrases as journalists do in their scripts or in print. In this, the last installment of Jeff Rowe’s series on Euphemisms, Clichés and Redundancies, see how many clichés you can find in this one-act play called:
(Scene opens in a living room where the telephone is ringing. An answering machine kicks on: Hi - Ethel, Jim, Enrique, Rasheed and Tamiko are not in right now but if you'll leave a message we'll try to get back to you within a fortnight.)
Voice on machine: Jim, this is Ed, your editor. I'm editing your story on the family that was torn apart - by a ... pack of wolves?! We're not telling the readers that until the 6th graf! Call me Jimmy.
(Jim enters the room and plops in a chair. His daughter Tamiko walks in.)
Tamiko: Dad - I want to go with Erika and Tanisha to Cozumel for spring break.
Jim: Oh, and how are you going to pay for that?
Tamiko: Well, I have a war chest. (She's wearing a T-shirt with "War" written on it.)
Jim: That's a drop in the bucket compared to what you will need.
Tamiko: But dad, if I don't go it will have a chilling effect on my social standing at school.
Jim: I was bracing for that argument. But it comes against the backdrop of underachievement on your last report card.
Tamiko: You're saying my grades were crummy?
(Phone rings again.)
Tamiko: Are you going to answer it?
Jim: No, it's probably either a telemarketer or an editor. (Tamiko leaves the room.)
Phone: Jim, this is Ed again. Getting near deadline here and I have another question. In the graf after the one about the calm before the storm but before the one about the high-speed chase, you mention a dying breed. Help me transition all this Jimmy.
Rasheed: Hey pop. I want to buy a motorcycle.
Jim: No motorcycles in this house. They are involved in some horrific accidents. I myself barely escaped death once.
Rasheed: Wasn't that because your bike had bald tires and Mother Nature had just dropped a blanket of the white stuff?
Jim: All I recall is that I made a miraculous escape when a motorist almost ran me down.
(Rasheed shrugs and leaves the room. Enter Ethel.)
Ethel: I'm going to the school meeting tonight to complain about the nomenclature in this documentation.
Jim: You're going to speak out?
Ethel: Yes, I'm going to break my silence.
Jim: Tempers will flare.
Ethel: Maybe, but I think we can launch a grassroots effort.
Jim: What are political observers saying?
Ethel: That it's a closely watched controversial issue. But that it's only fair to have a level playing field, to end the reign of terror before it spreads like wildfire.
Jim: Wait a minute! Isn't it redundant to say an issue is controversial? I think I read something about that in Journalism 101. Anyway, is this thing being viewed with alarm? Could it be a see-saw battle?
Ethel: Yes. We're under siege.
(The phone rings again. Ethel leaves the room; Enrique enters.)
Enrique: Eh, papa, answer the phone?
Jim: No, it's probably a wrong number.
Phone: Jimmy! Ed here. Call me A-S-A-P. I don't understand this reference in your story to the brutal murder.
Enrique: Can I borrow $1O?
Enrique: Lunch tomorrow. I want to take Tessa out.
Jim: Is she that tall, willowy Samoan girl? The one who was burned in the upper torso in that house fire that was fully involved?
Enrique: I don't think so. She stated her family is from impoverished Guatemala.
Jim: Are they the ones that won the coveted title? Lotto Kings?
Enrique: No, they entered but were doomed to failure. I tried to warn them but it fell on deaf ears.
Jim: Where you going to go for this lunch?
Enrique: Vicencios. It's two-for-one day tomorrow.
Jim: Is that the place near where the brushfire raged?
Enrique: No, it's where that gang of Swedish kids fired a hail of bullets though the windows. They're still at large.
Jim: Can you see the bullet holes with the naked eye?
Enrique: Yeah, and they're the biggest holes in recent memory. It was heavy man.
Jim: Heavy? How heavy? Well be careful son, you never know when things may erupt in violence again.
Enrique: That's what area residents are saying. Only time will tell.
(The phone rings again as Enrique walks out of the room, pausing to glance at the phone and then his father. A clearly agitated Rasheed bursts into the room again. He too ignores the phone.)
Rasheed: Someone turn on a radio or television. I've been outside for a few minutes and out of touch with what's happening.
Phone: James!!! I know you're there. Pick up the phone. Jimmy? We're right on deadline.
(Rasheed turns on a small radio and inserts the earpiece. He listens intently for a moment.)
Jim: Son, what's the very latest?
Rasheed (his back to the window, facing his father): Well as you can see behind me down there at the harbor, the legendary SS Disney has limped into port after someone threw a karaoke machine overboard and it heavily damaged a propeller.
Jim: Any suspects?
Rasheed: No but police have thrown up a perimeter around the area and are warning area residents to keep their karaoke machines out of sight until this senseless crime is solved. Back to you, Dad.
Jim: All right Rasheed. Thank you for that.
(Rasheed nods and continues listening, his hand holding the earpiece in place.)
Jim: Time I think for me to tune in to the evening news. I've got to gear up for another day in the newsroom tomorrow. But I fear there is no relief in sight from ... Ed.
Phone: It's Ed again. We're holding your story.
Jeff Rowe has been a journalist since 1975, reporting and producing news for television, radio, newspapers, magazines and online publications. He's been a broadcast writer for the Associated Press, a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal, and broadcast editor for The Orange County Register. His articles appear frequently here in SVN. His book, Broadcast News Writing for Professionals is used in high school and college journalism classes.It is available in soft cover from Marion Street Press.