Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Burning Clichés

First, let me say that my heart goes out to those who have recently lost their homes in the Colorado wildfires.  Today's post is no way intended to trivialize the loss of one's home, or in the case of the California gas line explosion, the loss of homes and lives. As with any disaster, many people will be affected by these events for years to come.

However, I must say that in the wake of the recent Colorado fires, the use of the cliché "burned to the ground" has reached epidemic proportions among news reporters.  I've lost count of the number of times I have heard or seen this phrase in the past two weeks alone.  Radio, television, print, Internet – it's insidious.

I understand why:  News reporters need to engage and hold their viewers'/listeners'/readers' attention, and so they employ a little dramatic flair.  "Burned to the ground" describes total devastation using only four economical words.  Anyone who reads or hears these words knows exactly what the reporter is seeing:  Nothing left.  Leveled.  Flattened.  On the ground.

But it's also become a very overused, very tired cliché.

I propose that "burned to the ground" be sent to the cliché crematorium.  Let's challenge ourselves – and all reporters – to find new and creative (or even not-so-creative) ways to say the same thing.

Let's not fall into the habit of relying on those four words to describe every fire scene, like a hapless television reporter I saw several years ago.  In trying to dramatize the coverage of a plain old grass fire that didn't involve any structures, she looked into the camera with a most serious expression and summed up the damage:

     "Five acres of grass burned to the ground."

True story.

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