Thursday, October 10, 2013

The vague cliche "all set" – an editorial

The vague cliche “all set” is the worst cliche in use today. As background for this assertion, I’m going to distinguish between “not-so-bad” cliches and “bad” cliches.

Not-so-bad cliches

The typical cliche begins as a new expression that conveys an idea cleverly and precisely. Because the expression is fresh and clever and precise, people like using it. It becomes commonly used and then overused: in other words, it becomes a cliche. For example, “like a kid in a candy store.”

So, when you use a cliche, you are using a stale expression. That’s bad, I guess, but at least people know what you mean (unless the cliche is very old). So the cliche has some value. I prefer to say that this kind of cliche is “not-so-bad,” when compared with a truly bad cliche.

Bad cliches

The bad cliche begins not as a precise expression but as a vague one. It becomes a cliche because evasive people* recognize that it can help them get away with deliberately conveying an idea vaguely as opposed to precisely. These people popularize the expression and it eventually becomes a cliche in their crowd.

Although you and I try to be careful writers and speakers, we occasionally resort to using a bad cliche when we unwittingly imitate the evasive people. And that is really bad: We are impeding our own communication. And we are sanctioning evasiveness, when we should be trying to eliminate it.

Today, the worst of the bad cliches is “all set.” Every year, it seems that more people rely on it. Some people use it hundreds of times per day.

Among the worst offenders:
Indolent shop clerks who ask customers “All set?” instead of asking “Can I help you find something?” or “Can I get you anything else?” or “Do you have any questions?”

Indolent waiters who ask guests “All set?” instead of asking “May I take your order?” or “May I clear your place?” or “I’ll bring you your change.”
The Takeaway: Try not to rely on the vague cliche “all set.” It is almost always a vague substitute for a more precise expression. It’s bad manners. In some situations it may even be unethical or immoral, because it is evasive. Join me in the effort to eliminate evasive diction, our own and others’.

*Besides favoring vague expressions, these people usually mumble, slur their words (e.g., “Ha-wuh goo-wuh” for “Have a good one”), and refuse to look you in the eye. For more examples of slurred words, see my list in progress here.

See disclaimer.

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