With another grisly holiday season looming over us, the coal-mine canaries on the copy desk are already scenting cliches. The first “jolly old elf” has already turned up, and Thanksgiving is still a week away. In hopes that word can reach you in time, I’m reprinting the post “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” from Dec. 22. 2005:
Nothing is harder to keep fresh than the language about something that happens every year. For several seasons now, The Sun’s copy desk has circulated in-house a memo on holiday cliches to eschew. The list below, compiled by Sun copy editors and colleagues in the American Copy Editors Society, was published in an earlier form on the Poynter Institute’s Web site under the title “Avoid holiday cliches.”
“’Tis the season”: Not in copy, not in headlines, not at all.
“’Twas the night before” anything: 'Twasing is no more defensible than ’tising. (And if you must refer to the Rev. Mr. Moore's poem, if indeed he wrote it, the proper title is “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”)
“Jolly old elf”: Please, no. And if you must use Kriss Kringle, remember the double s.
Any “Christmas came early” construction.
“Yes, Virginia” allusions: No.
“Grinch steals”: When someone vandalizes holiday decorations, steals a child's toys from under the tree, or otherwise dampens holiday cheer, this construction may be almost irresistible. Resist it.
“Turkey and all the trimmings”: If you can't define trimmings without looking up the word, you shouldn't be using it.
“White stuff” for snow: We should have higher standards of usage than do television weather forecasters. Also avoid the tautologies favored by these types: winter season, weather conditions, winter weather conditions, snow event and snow precipitation. And the tautologies favored in advertising: free gift, extra bonus and extra added bonus.
Old Man Winter, Jack Frost and other moldy personifications can safely be omitted.
Pray do not ring out or ring in an old year, a new year, or anything else.
If the spirit of ecumenism and inclusion requires the inclusion of Hanukkah in to holiday articles, these points should be kept in mind. Hanukkah is a holiday more like Independence Day than Christmas, and it is only the coincidence of the calendar dates in a gentile culture that has caused the holiday to mimic Christian and secular elements. The holidays are coincidental; they are not twins.