Further Linguistic Defeats
Last September I lamented that the "lie-lay" distinction seems to be a lost cause. Joining it now, I think, are certain uses of "obsess" and "cliché." I've recently come across sentences like these in the writing of two forty-ish (I think) people, both very well educated, one of them a Ph.D:
I am obsessing about that movie.
That movie is so cliché.
And these instances are in books, not casual online commentaries, email, or text messages--books edited and published by reputable publishers, and so presumably approved by at least one competent editor. I despair.
If you don't notice anything wrong with these sentences, well, I guess you're on the right side of history for the moment. They make me wince, if not worse.
When you can't get something out of your head, you are not obsessing about it. It is doing the obsessing, not you. It is on the active side of that verb. It is obsessing you. You are obsessed by it.
Cliché is a noun, not an adjective. I'm not sure that it's even really a good thing to turn it into "clichéd," as in "That movie is so clichéd." I'm out of my grammatical depth in trying to analyze that, but it sounds better than "so cliché."
My authority for these judgments is my Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary (Unabridged), published in 1966. I guess it's a relic now, like me. It's falling apart, also like me. So cliché.
The long defeat continues.
Posted by: Don | 05/02/2022 at 01:48 PM
That phrase sounded familiar, so I did a search for it. What a lot of interesting results, including a band by that name. The first one includes the use you probably have in mind, from one of Tolkien's letters.
Posted by: Mac | 05/02/2022 at 02:14 PM
Something like that was one of Weaver's original titles for Ideas Have Consequences. The Long Descent maybe? He very much disliked the IHC title, which was chosen by the publisher.
Posted by: Rob G | 05/03/2022 at 05:56 AM
That's funny. The "something like that" might have been good or even better, but "ideas have consequences" has become a proverb.
Posted by: Mac | 05/03/2022 at 10:57 AM
In fairness, "cliché" does look like an adjective, along the same lines as "risqué" and "manqué."
I was going to say that "clichéd" is legitimate as an English adjective form, akin to "sautéd," but on reflection is isn't, because "sauté" is a verb.
Posted by: Anne-Marie | 05/03/2022 at 08:40 PM
You mean literally just "looks like," I guess? It does. But I stand with my Webster's. It doesn't mention any meaning but the noun.
Yes, I went through several attempts to come up with an analog of "cliché/clichéd", and couldn't come up with one--a noun that is "adjectived"--or is it verbed?-- in the same way. That's why I have that remark about it being out of my grammatical depth. There must be some, but nothing came to mind.
Posted by: Mac | 05/03/2022 at 09:31 PM
Yes, I meant they are visually similar. It's a partial explanation of the error, not a suggestion that there is no error!
Posted by: Anne-Marie | 05/04/2022 at 07:14 AM
I guess it's possible, but I suspect that this usage originates with the unwashed masses of journalism and pop culture in general, few of whom are likely to know "manqué". And I wonder if younger people even know "risqué" anymore.
But anyway, a further note: "demagogue" is not a verb. "Predictably, President Biden has had nothing meaningful to say about the outrageous, criminal leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion, but he has been quick to demagogue...."
That one's a bit more forgiveable, because the alternatives are a little clumsy: "engage in demagoguery" or "play the demagogue." I can't think offhand of a verb that strikes the same note.
Posted by: Mac | 05/04/2022 at 09:26 PM