Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Fundraising Cliches Or Idioms?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the use of seemingly fake surveys in direct mail fundraising appeals.

Yes, I'm sure most of you find this just as fascinating as I do--ha!

In any case, I received another fake survey, this time from the Democratic Party.  What struck me more than the presumably fake survey this time was the massive amount of cliches used in the accompanying letter.  Democrats were going to "pull out all the stops" to have a "big finish" to keep the country on "the path forward" because it has been "paying the price" due to Republican "roadblocks".

And those were just the first few paragraphs.  Later cliches included "all-out effort", "work around the clock", "stand their ground", "deep-pocketed", "foundations to victory" (complete with "pillars"), and "[t]ime is slipping by".  There were more, but I will spare you.

A cliche is usually defined as a metaphorical expression that has worn out its novelty and now represents stale thinking.  It was one of the things that George Orwell complained about in his great essay "Politics and the English Language", though he called them "dying metaphors".  If you think about it, what does "pulling out all the stops" mean?  Do the Democrats have a magic pipe organ that they're cranking up to scare Republicans away?  What is a "big finish" anyway?  Is there a scale one can measure out what a big finish is from a small finish?  What path is the country on exactly?  Not only does land not move (aside from earthquakes or whatnot), but even if the writer of the letter (supposedly Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz) was imagining the people of the country instead of the actual land, when were we all on the same path? There are millions of us; that little path is going to get quite crowded.  I could go on, but you get the idea.  This stale language is representative of stale thinking, and, therefore, unlikely to get my financial support.

However, I bet this stuff works for others.  Fundraising folks generally know what they're doing, and if they pile on the cliches, then maybe they have found that some Democrats "open up their wallets".  Cliches do allow people to follow meaning very quickly.  One could even argue that one person's cliche is another's idiom, and that different people will consider some expressions not to be worn out.  In this last paragraph, I used both "pile on" and "worn out"; they could be considered cliches by some, since they involve a figurative use of language and have been used so long that no one really thinks of their metaphorical aspects anymore.  Language is always tricky.

Still, I think the Dems need to hire some better writers.  Perhaps they need to "think outside the box", to use a phrase I personally detest (anyone who says that clearly isn't thinking out of the box yet), so that they can "clean the clock" (perhaps the same one that they were working around in the letter) of the Republicans in the midterm elections.  Orwell was right decades ago when he wrote, "Political language--and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists--is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase--some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse--into the dustbin, where it belongs."

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