Word of the Week – hairbrained
Writing guides warn against clichés, avoid them at all cost! They’re ubiquitous and it makes me wonder why we’re so attracted to them.
Especially the repetitive phrases: hale and hearty, trials and tribulations, vim and vigor. Maybe it’s the alliterative quality that rolls off the tongue. Many times, I notice the spillover from legal documents, determined to account for all eventualities. Consider, null and void, assault and battery.
I refuse to give up on all clichés in my stories. They’re amusing and it seems like the judicious use of a shopworn phrase will fit some characters’ voices in dialogue. I’m thinking of a veteran cop with a military background. I think he’ll use the term “cease and desist.”
What makes it a cliché? Experts mention staleness, triteness, and a sense that the phrase is devoid of a specific meaning. At the end of the day… What does the phrase mean? One consequence of overuse and lack of specificity is to invite misspellings. Hale and hearty, for example, (denoting good health, usually applied to older people) is sometimes rendered as “hale and hardy.” Take a look at Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage.
According to Webster, those kinds of mistakes from “spelling by ear” may evolve into standard usage. On the same page, Webster cites the word “hare-brained,” which has been misspelled as “hairbrained” so many times that Webster considers it an “established” variation. When you actually conjure up the mental image, “hare-brained” makes a little more sense.
But “hale and hardy” would too.
June 13, 2016 @ 8:38 pm
Hey Shirley how about looking at sayings such as “there’s the devil to pay” or “I’m caught between the devil and the deep blue sea”. There are a million of these and I am always surprised to hear the origin of such sayings as they are rarely related to how they are used today.
June 14, 2016 @ 8:32 am
Great suggestion. Patrick O’Brian created a whole world in the Aubry-Maturin series with his nautical lingo.
June 14, 2016 @ 4:28 pm
Ha! I actually looked up “hare-brained” not that long ago, I’m ashamed to say. I wasn’t 100 percent sure. 😀
June 15, 2016 @ 9:26 am
I recently read the obituary of the woman who created the beehive hairdo, and it made me think that, in this strange political season, “hairbrained” is a pretty good image as well.
June 29, 2016 @ 10:46 am
I think we hear these lingual artifacts as children from our parents and never know their true meaning. Thanks for sharing!!
June 29, 2016 @ 1:12 pm
Take the quiz in the blog for Word of the Week – Doodlebug and you’ll see that your word choices can locate you, if not in your very neighborhood, darned close. Send me a colorful saying to research.