language and words in the news

The elephant in the headlines

© Cristina Fumi / Fotolia.comThey come in waves, unstoppable forces sweeping across journalism and the media. Quite often you don’t notice them, perhaps not even until you’re saying one of them glibly to a friend. They’re the fashionable news sayings and idioms, like ‘the elephant in the room’, or ‘the perfect storm’. Both idioms are legitimate sayings of longstanding provenance (‘elephant in the room’ dates back at least to 1959, and ‘the perfect storm’ to 1936), which at times in recent years have trampled or engulfed all areas of news reportage, seemingly paralysing those involved with spasms of unimaginative copycat dependence. ‘The perfect storm’ even topped a widely-publicised list of over-used words in 2007.

The ‘elephant in the room’ phenomenon was, I’m convinced, spurred by the constant reference to it in the ‘E’ series of QI, which was first broadcast in the autumn of 2007 and has been endlessly repeated since. ‘The perfect storm’ vogue fitted well with the gloomy turbulence of the credit crunch, but was pounced upon by the media to describe any event or outcome that was a consequence of sometimes as little as three contributing factors. Since this idiom can be used to encapsulate a large proportion of the things that go on in this world, however mundane they might be, for a while it seemed to be everywhere. This morning, I hadn’t washed for over a day, I’d got sweaty running for a bus last night and my girlfriend told me I was beginning to smell. Thus, the perfect storm was created for my taking a shower. The elephant in the room was that I’d forgotten to buy any deodorant the last time I went shopping.

These sayings come and go perhaps because they’re seen as providing news items with more awareness and currency, which adds to their legitimacy as au courant sources of information. If you can catch them early, their prevalence can be most amusing to note. Which idioms and sayings have you noticed doing the rounds at the moment?

Read about other idioms,  sayings and words in the news.

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Drew Stanley


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