Drop-Dead Gorgeous and other hideous word combinations

Drop Dead Gorgeous poster.jpgHow many times a year do you read the words “drop dead gorgeous” in a novel or short story? If the answer is zero, then I’m jealous. I just stumbled across the cliché again today in a book written by a writer who probably makes at least $100000000000000 a year and it pissed me off. For that kind of money he can do better than trotting out a lame cliche to describe (usually) a beauiful woman. Let’s stipulate here that the author wasn’t talking about the 1999 dark comedy. I wish he had been.

We can’t blame the film for the cliché. It showed up in the 1930s as a way of ramping up what you were talking about. The phrase is, then, considered an “intensifier.” It’s almost as bad as saying “the shrimp salad was to die for” (and not because the shrimp had gone bad, though in real life, that’s probably the case).

Frankly–and I know this is unsolicited advice–if you’re the kind of person whose blood pressure is so high that you’re likely to drop dead when you see a stunning woman/car/house/horse, then you need to see a doctor or start buying Lisinopril BP meds on the street.

So, to suggest a standard, when a phrase show up every which way but loose, then if you’re a writer, don’t use it. Or if you want other people you converse with to respect you in the morning, don’t use it. Don’t look at something bad and say “what goes around comes around.” Or tell a factory fresh widow “time heals all wounds” or “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Or tell people your spouse is “ugly as sin” or that your grandmother is “as old as the hills.”

My mother used to tell me that using profanity was a sign of a weak vocabulary or a weak mind. Actually, profanity is more fun than clichés, more versatile, perhaps, though it you start describing everyone you meet as “shit for brains,” you have gone too far. In fact, you’re out in left field.

Let’s just sum up this essay by saying that if, at the end of the day, you find yourself speaking/writing overused words, then you need to start thinking outside the box and get some fresh words that give you more bang for the buck.


Special Investigative Reporter by [Malcolm R. Campbell]Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Special Investigative Reporter,” a novel in which figures of speech are taken literally and clichés are seen as a way of life. Frankly, I hope you’ll laugh your ass off. Oops, I should have just said it’s drop-dead funny.

The delightful snares of ambiguity

There’s the lame of joke that has to do with a husband asking his wife “What’s wrong” and she says, “Nothing.” In this case, “nothing” means “something.”

If somebody laughs and says, “You’re the world’s greatest lover” it means you aren’t.

Satire, sarcasm, irony, words with multiple meanings: these things can be a writer’s greatest joys and for others the greatest hell.

If you live in North Florida, then you know that if my response to you is, “No, yeh” it means yes, but that if it’s “Yeh, no” it means no. Slang and dialect and passing language fads ad to the mix of joys and hells.

Years ago, if somebody was called “badass,” that meant nasty, trashy, murderous, unkempt. Now, it’s a badge of honor. The changing meanings of words and phrases through time add to the fun as well as the snare of language. And then there are all those words and phrases that are perfectly fine in the U.S. will get you in big trouble in England, another example of two countries separated by a common language.  (That phrase doesn’t quite tell you if “common” means low class or if it means “the same.”)

And heaven help us if parents try to understand what their children are talking about, especially if they’re texting.

No wonder people have trouble communicating with each other when they have the best of intentions.

I always have fun yanking people’s chains when they say things like “nothing is sacred.” I know what they mean, that is, that people are not treating sacred words, songs, motions, ceremonies, etc. as sacred. But if I pretend to take the person who says that literally, I ask how it’s possible for nothing itself to be sacred. Or, when they say, “Nothing’s certain,” I ask how it can be that the only certainty comes from nothing.

“Nothing” is one of those words that begs to be played with.

The delightful snares in language work to a writer’s advantage if s/he is writing mysteries, satire, comedy, and ghost stories. The snares are also quite common in the hands of politicians. Meanwhile, the reader assumes the writer (or politician) is writing to reveal when they’re writing to conceal.  ‘Struth, maybe none of us are any better than PR flaks.

The only way I can think of to end this post is: “Can you see what I’m saying.”


If you love double meanings and nasty wordplay, you’ll enjoy “Special Investigative Reporter.”