It can be sad sometimes to see a perfectly good word end up helplessly trapped in a prison of cliched usages. Don’t know what I’m talking about? How about a few examples? Think of the things that you’ve recently heard described as scathing . Were they rebukes or criticisms? I’ll bet they were. And what about utmost ? Have you come across anything utmost that wasn’t sincerity or respect? I doubt it. And I think we can agree that few things are as ardent as supporters, or as insurmountable as odds.
Gall and disaster have something in common: they are about the only things that are quite frequently unmitigated - just as false and obvious are all-too-often patently so. And is anything as reckless as abandon? Perhaps endangerment, maybe driving… but mostly abandon. Disregard comes in a number of forms, but none so common as blatant . On the other hand, nothing is nearly so rapier as wit. Intuition tells us that a tongue could be rapier, and that wits could be sharp, but no, it’s sharp tongues and rapier wits until the cows come home. And don’t let yourself be guilty of switching them around.
Speaking of guilt, do we assuage anything quite so much? We might appease, alleviate or mollify lots of things, but guilt is about the only thing we really assuage with any regularity. We condone a lot of things, but so often we do so tacitly . We also come to tacit agreements, but I can’t think of many other places where tacitness comes to the fore (I didn’t even know tacitness was a word before I looked it up for this sentence.) We never jockey for anything but position. Aspersions are only ever cast. Things are never engulfed in anything but flames. Intrinisic value. Abject failure. Unqualified success. Thinly veiled . I could go on and on. We don’t pique many things besides interest or curiosity, and I can’t imagine whetting anything but an appetite, can you? Ah, except maybe a metaphorical whistle, that is. But one thing's for sure: the only thing I ever extol are virtues.
I’m afraid words like these are, if you’ll allow me one more cliched pairing to drive the point home, inextricably linked. (Ah, the ‘meta’ cliched coupling if there ever was one!) But like most inextricable links (they all are these days, aren’t they?) these pairings are probably just easy and strong, and not actually bonds from which their constituent parts cannot be extricated.
So I say extricate them. We should grant these words a life outside the cliches. If you love words, set them free.
And here's 80's Sting for a few words on the subject: