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I pray you, good people, forbear

When I saw at Target the other day that the Christmas decorations were beginning to crowd out the Halloween merchandise, I realized that the grim time has come upon us again. So today, All Saints’ Day, is none too soon to repeat the solemn warnings. *

This list of holiday cliches to shun, which I compiled with the assistance of fellow Sun copy editors and colleagues in the American Copy Editors Society, has been published in an earlier form on this blog and at the Poynter Institute’s Web site, www.poynter.org, under the title “Avoid holiday cliches.”

“’Tis the season”: Not in copy, not in headlines, not at all. Never, never, never, never, never. You cannot make this fresh. Do not attempt it.

“’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.

Give Dickens a rest. No ghosts of anything past, present or future. Delete bah and humbug from your working vocabulary. Treat Scrooge as you would the Grinch, by ignoring him.

“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.

If the spirit of ecumenism and inclusion requires mention of Hanukkah in 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.

Pray do not ring out or ring in an old year, a new year, or anything else.

Parodies of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” are, if possible, even more tedious than the original. And, typically, they do not scan.

Some readers (and, sadly, some writers) lap up this swill. It is familiar, and the complete lack of originality is a comfort to them. It is for such people that television exists.

 

* Apprehension knows its fellows. Some of you may recall lines from Tom Lehrer’s Christmas carol: “Kill the turkeys, ducks, and chickens, / Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens; / Even though the prospect sickens, / Brother, here we go again.”

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:19 AM | | Comments (4)
        

Comments

Without "Yes, Virginia" allusions, it Twon't Be The Season.

What a Grinch.

The 12 days of Christmas are not a countdown to Christmas; the days end in January with Epiphany.

Snopes.com has an article discussing the meaning and origin of the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" at http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/12days.asp.

Oh, God yes. Thank you, thank you for this post.

It is ironic at this time of good will towards men that you neglected to include time-honored crime story lead-in, "it is ironic at this time of goodwill toward men."

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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