Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Who the Hell is Murphy?

In the opening scene of the movie The 25th Hour (a decent enough movie) a Russian mobster is talking with Ed Norton's character about how some drug deal or something that went bad.

"One thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong. You know, Doyle's law."

"Doyle? Who the hell is Doyle? You mean Murphy's law?"

"Who the hell is Murphy?"

There was probably a lot more swearing than that, but that was the jist of the dialogue. It's been a few years since I've seen it.

My point is, there are a number of irritating expressions that mean a very specific thing that are terribly stupid or confusing. Just who is Murphy and why does he get a law? Sure, I could take 30 seconds and look it up on Wikipedia and educate myself about the origins of this phrase. But I prefer ignorance in this case. The problem is, even though I don't like this expression, it does communicate a very specific idea in two short words. And I can't think of a better way to say it. So even though the phrase bugs me, I use it. I wish I was articulate enough to rise above obnoxious cliches, but I'm not. I'm just too lazy. I wallow in the tired colloquialisms of my time.

So here is a quick list of cliches that bug me, yet I often find myself using them anyway.

Apples to Oranges / Apples to Apples: Uuugh. This stupid thing is beaten into the ground in the business world. "We're really not comparing apples to apples here." There has to be a better way to reference an asymmetric comparison. Chuck Klosterman had a great riff about this. He points out that apples and oranges are incredibly similar in almost everyway. You should compare apples and carrots or apples and laundry detergent. It's a stupid phrase that I try to avoid.

That's the pot calling the kettle black: This communicates a simple concept of hypocrisy and yet we feel the need to introduce a reference to cast iron pots and kettles. Who uses a kettle anyway? Much less a black one? If I need to boil water, I use a pyrex measuring cup and a microwave. And is there something inherently wrong with being a black pot or kettle? I think we need to collectively retire this outdated, quasi racist expression for good. Instead, just say, "Well that's the Nascar fan calling the Walmart employee fat." or "That's the Frenchman calling the Pakistani smelly" or "That's Tom Cruise calling John Travolta gay." I got a million of em folks!

He threw him under the bus: This one is used all the time when discussing politics and sports. "TO really threw McNabb under the bus." "Obama threw Reverend Wright under the bus." Just what is this bus everyone is always referencing? Why a bus? Why not a truck or a train or a steam roller? And it isn't "a" bus, it is "the" bus. As if we should all be aware of this specific bus whose singular purpose is to provide a means of violent betrayal. Also, the word "under" is a little strange. Are we riding on this bus? If so, wouldn't we throw them off the bus? You can't throw somebody under a moving bus if you are riding on it without some serious back spin. And if the bus is driving by, wouldn't we throw them in front of the bus? To throw somebody under a moving bus would take some precise timing. You would have to get them behind the front wheels but in front of the rear wheels. Quite a difficult task considering we are talking about throwing and entire human being. We're not pushing them. Their body must completely leave the ground for at least a few feet of distance in order for it to be considered a throw. A lot of effort just to screw somebody over.

Touche: Any word that can only be used as a complete sentence should rot in hell. You cannot combine "touche" with any other combination of words and make it work. It only exists as a complete sentence. I think that's pretty arrogant. Especially considering it's French.

No pun intended: When people drop this sentence fragment at the end of an obnoxious double entendre they of course are really saying, "Pun completely intended! My word play is so incredibly clever but I didn't even mean to say it! And I want to be sure you didn't miss my sparkling wit so I'll emphasize it in a passive aggressive attempt to appear accidentally brilliant! Aren't you glad I spelled out the obvious?" Is there a lower form of humor than a pun? I don't think there is. That is why Sex and City is an awful show. It isn't the fact that the four main characters are repulsively self absorbed, or that Kim Cattrall insists on displaying her dimpled, 50 year old butt in every episode, or that Sarah Jessica Parker looks like an overly made up horse with a wart on its chin. No, it is because there isn't one line of that wretched dialogue that isn't dripping with it's own clever punniness.

Well, that's enough ranting for one day. I'm sure there are more expressions that just need to go away but I can't think of any others right now. Feel free to add your own.

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