Wednesday, December 06, 2006
In The Heat Of War, The Cliche Is The Enemy, So It Is Time To Disarm Those Who Talk Of Silver Bullets
Once, when I was employed in an advisory capacity at Scotland's Notional Newspaper, The Scotsman, I happened to mention to a young reporter that her story was full of cliches. It was, to coin a phrase, jam-packed with prefabricated language. The wastepaper bin at the Hallmark card factory would have contained less weary verbiage.
But the reporter was unabashed. "Cliches become cliches," she reprimanded me, "because they're true."
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, I fear she was hitting the nail on the head, and - as if to prove it - she went on to enjoy a glittering career.
Perhaps she was right to be unapologetic. Journalism is an ecological industry concerned with the recycling of old words. But the use of cliches still rankles. This afternoon, on BBC Radio 4's The World at One, I heard one of the most annoying examples, when someone - it does not matter who - noted that: "There is no silver bullet to end the violence in Iraq."
What is this "silver bullet", and how does it have the capacity to end war? Is it fired from a silver gun by the Lone Ranger? Or is it related the "magic bullet" often mentioned by whey-faced apologists for chaos, but which is actually derived from the conspiracy theories about the assassination of President John F Kennedy?
The two terms are used interchangeably, their purpose being to avoid the less poetic statement: "I don't know". But really, all they do is add confusion, particularly when the subject is war. I am told that American tank crews in the first Gulf War used the nickname "silver bullet" for sabot cannon shells, due to their ability to destroy Iraqi tanks with a single shot. So the sentence, "there is no silver bullet to end the violence in Iraq" may be true, but in a different way than would be assumed by a casual listener.
I realise, of course, that the silver bullet has a long history, and is invaluable when one is attacked by werewolves or vampires, though some would say that a wooden stake is a more reliable implement in the latter case. When in doubt, one should merely avoid Midlothian.