Day’s Verse:
Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences. Christ’s death was also a one-time event, but it was a sacrifice that took care of sins forever. And so, when he next appears, the outcome for those eager to greet him is, precisely, salvation.
Hebrews 9:27-28

Cliches. We all use ’em, and they give us a useful shorthand way of referring to an idea. But they’re cliches for a reason, as I demonstrate in this sentence:

Now, words are just hot air until we put the pedal to the metal.

I typed this down in the midst of an article for the Bicycle Alliance newsletter without really engaging my brain. Then I reread it and had to laugh aloud — it was so very, very bad! Fortunately, I rewrote that sentence to say what I wanted without the horrific mixed metaphor. Editing worked.

When editing fails, you get writing like Clive Cussler’s, which has become notorious in my family as the pinnacle of mixed-metaphor, cliche-clashing writing. Some of my favorite Cusslerisms include:

  • Trapped like a duck in a closet.
  • The dark side of the coin.
  • The weapon was extremely lethal (also: Deadly killer weapons)
  • “We’re taking on water like a douche bag”
  • They proceded to overhaul the other vehicle (he meant to say they caught up to the other vehicle)
  • Pissing off the wrong side of the fence
  • He regarded her like a classic car he had never seen before

All these and more make reading Clive Cussler’s books just that much more entertaining. Alas, these mixed metaphors and Frankenstein’s monsters of cliches don’t remain solely in the purview of churn ’em out fiction novelists. No, a while ago I encountered another unfortunate Cussler-like writing faux pas in the newspaper: “‘Now we know the true scale of the monster we are fighting in the Gulf,’ said Jeremy Symons, vice president of the National Wildlife Federation. ‘BP has unleashed an unstoppable force of appalling proportions.'” (citation). Ouch. Now that’s a pretty bad unstoppable force.

Share your favorite examples of bad writing!

5 thoughts on “When Good Writing Goes Bad

  1. “We’ve only won a minor skirmish in the war, but we’ve cut off an important tentacle of the octopus.” – Flood Tide p. 148

    “A nose shaped like an eagle.” – Sahara p. 61

    “Faster than a vampire pisses blood.” – Sahara p. 509

  2. In the Kirkland Reporter there is an advertisement for a job as a part time reporter for the newspaper. One of the “desired traits” listed is “Precious editing experience.”
    I kid you not.

    Do you think they mean “Precious little” or “Previous”? Or something altogether different!

  3. “They proceded to overhaul the other vehicle (he meant to say they caught up to the other vehicle)”
    Not that I think Mr. Cussler’s writing is very good–in fact, it’s awful–but just to be clear, “overhaul” DOES mean to catch up to or overtake another vehicle, runner, etc. as in a race.

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