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The Word Guy: Avoid current cliches such as 'moving parts'

| Friday, Oct. 31, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

“Campaigns are complex organisms with hundreds of moving parts.”

When I encountered that sentence recently, I was willing to overlook the mixed metaphor that mingled the organic and the mechanical. But I couldn't ignore the ubiquitous cliche “moving parts.”

As you've probably noticed, our business jargon now features more “moving parts” than a Rube Goldberg machine, e.g., “This merger has a lot of moving parts.”

Such verbal contraptions, like dangerous toys, should be labeled: “This sentence contains ‘moving parts' — not suitable for children under 99.”

Some other current cliches:

Get it right. The sport of football has many moving parts, but the favorite cliche of chagrined NFL officials during these scandal-ridden weeks has been some version of “getting this right.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell vowed “to get it right,” while Carolina Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman pledged, “We have to get this right.”

Dallas Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones proclaimed a virtual Bill of Rights: “We haven't got it right, and we have been rightfully criticized for not getting it right. I think we will ultimately get it right. There is a lot of work to get done on how you get that right.” Right.

Monetize. These days, you can “monetize” just about anything. In recent weeks, I've read articles on how to monetize your cat (make Fluffy famous on YouTube), your closet (sell that old bridesmaid's dress) and your jack-o'-lantern. (OK, I made up that last one.)

Until the past few years, “monetize,” which first appeared in English during the 1870s, has had only two narrow definitions: to coin or print money, or to convert government debt from securities into cash. But “monetize” now refers to the turning of any resource or asset into cash — perhaps by finding an “elegant solution.”

Elegant solution. In mathematics and engineering, an “elegant solution” is a means of solving a problem with the least possible waste of materials and effort. Think very few moving parts, like a paper clip.

But now The New York Times is describing every idea or gadget as “an elegant solution,” including the use of a New York City alleyway as an emergency exit, technical innovations in a sewage treatment plant and a new app that allows your cellphone to download your restaurant bill and pay it — presumably very useful in “elegant” restaurants.

Rob Kyff is a teacher in West Hartford, Conn. Send reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, to or to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

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