The language

Every cliche has its day. It wouldn't have become one if it didn't once say something fresh, writes Heather Neill

Poetry may be regarded as the highest form of writing while journalism is thought to be at the bottom of the heap - unimaginative and cliche-ridden.

Well, I would like to defend journalism. Contributors to newspapers can be as innovative as anyone writing in other genres. The cliche charge may have some truth in it, but that is simply because an idea repeated to a sizeable audience quickly begins to look tired.

Examples of inventions from the past few years are trophy wife, mockney, aga saga and road rage. These are all in their way witty - or at least seemed so on first acquaintance - and provide a neat shorthand. Some of them have become indispensable. Take trophy wife. How else would you describe the much younger wife of a very rich man, while simultaneously expressing a certain disdain for the apparent gold digger and superiority over the poor fool who has made himself ridiculous?

Mockney instantly exposes the dishonesty of those celebrities who think it politic to pretend to be working class; the convenient rhyme incorporated into a single word adds to its effect. Poor Joanna Trollope, the most successful exponent of the aga saga - the romantic novel set among well-heeled country folk - would no doubt have something to say to the journalist who labelled her books and invented a genre by homing in on an essential accessory of such a lifestyle and, once again, employing rhyme to make it memorable (and repeatable beyond endurance).

The success of road rage is aided by that Anglo-Saxon favourite, alliteration. A production of Shakespeare's Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 and 3, which deals with the Wars of the Roses, has just opened in London under the title Rose Rage. So, here we are, full circle, with high art acknowledging the inventiveness of journalism and giving the cliche a twist.


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