Telling stories

When It’s Not Cool to be Hip

Posted by southwrite on September 9, 2014

Bald WriterWhile there are many ways to improve your writing one quick and easy – if not painless – way is cut the clichés, the hip sayings, and (all kinds of) jargon that cloud rather than advance communication.

Let’s confess, we love them even if we don’t always see a cliché as a cliché. The job wasn’t easy. No, it was a slam dunk. You didn’t get chewed out (an aged expression if ever there was one). “No man, I got chirped!” Want to tell someone you scored something really good? It was “swag money.” Pass a test? No, you were “killin’ it.”

It’s not that they really describe a situation – they don’t – but we feel that by uttering them we have acquired a bit of the cache of the trend setters. It makes us feel cool and not in its original meaning of early jazz musicians like Charlie Parker. HIs 1947 classic Cool Blues aptly conveyed the composure and style that was highly creative and original. Cool is still with us – always; but its meaning has been appropriated by media – especially advertising. Now cool is no longer about the style and detachment, but about…anything. Everything is cool. And, nothing is cool.

Leslie Savan, in Slam Dunks and No Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, and Like, Whatever explained it this way: “The catchwords, phrases, inflections, and quickie concepts that Americans seem unable to communicate without have grown into a verbal kudzu, overlaying regional differences with a national (even an international) pop accent that tells us more about how we think than what we think.”

Of course, many of the expressions we use are much older than we think. Black Americans have gifted – not always willingly – white Americans with a host of expressions. Many phrases that we use every day comes to us from Shakespeare. (Think of too much of a good thing, one fell swoop, flesh and blood, sea change and the long and the short of it among others.)

It’s one thing to pepper water cooler conversation with pop references. At worst you’re only boring a few office mates. Once you start incorporating them into the written word, you automatically begin to date your work. If your article is posted on the web, it’s going to have a much longer life than you might imagine and buzz phrases will seem awfully dated.

Better to just admit you can’t keep up with pop. That phrase has already been uttered millions of times. Worse, the hipster who coined it has long since moved on to something else long before you got around to it. Thanks to the media you’re trying to feed, it’s disseminated over and over again. Every bit of life and originality has been painfully squeezed from every pop phrase.

The same goes for the endless stream of specialized industry jargon. Oddly, enough although most of the media including books, articles and blogs have been dumbed down to the point that it’s unlikely you’ll come across any unfamiliar word, business reports, white papers, sales copy and brochures are often filled with words that nobody outside the industry could possibly know. Don’t use them – unless you’re required to do so.

If all of the clichés and cool expressions are out, then what is left? Well, there’s plain old English. Using simple accurate words always work. You can also come up with your own turn of phrase — one that is more original and fitting.

When you do that, then you will be hip and more than a little cool.


One Response to “When It’s Not Cool to be Hip”

  1. Cool article. And hip too!

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