The perverse wisdom of catch-phrases

By Michael J. Smith on Friday August 10, 2012 09:57 PM

I snuck out of my sweatshop in the garment district the other day for a quick cheap lunch with an old pal of mine -- call him Georgicus. We had a $10 Sinhalese buffet, and it was mighty good, though spicy, and my gut is still feeling the effects.

Old friends have a way of completing each others' sentences, and at one point I started to say something about people not thinking...

"Oh no!" Georgicus groaned. "Don't, please don't, say 'thinking outside the box'!"

I had not intended to say that, as it happens -- though a lesser man might have, in the context -- and we quickly agreed that this was a particularly loathesome phrase, even as cliches go.

But it got me thinking. There's always something to be said for inverting a cliche -- the locus classicus is surely Oscar's 'nature imitates art'.

I tried it. And it worked. In fact I know a lot of people who spend a lot of time thinking themselves into a box: ingeniously devising reasons why their hands are tied, they have no choice, they just have to suck it up and and and.

They start off outside the box, and think themselves into it.

Happened to a lot of old potheads and sexual deviants of my long-toothed generation. We started out as ruthless critics of everything that exists, and a lot of us ended up repeating hysterical fear-mongering (The Koch brothers! Karl Rove! Cthulhu!) on behalf of the Democratic Party.

We thought ourselves into a box.

From now on, I plan to hang out more with young people. They're amazingly forgiving. They don't mind that I'm an old fart. As long as I listen, and only answer a question when it's been asked.

Comments (21)

Bring a box of plates to the table to step up to after thinking them outside.

anne shew:

you can not think outside this boxing.. . , when .. others .. . will not let you out


Thinking in boxes is of course how u end up in one

Analytic Models are boxes by intent
Logical contrivances that transport you to their particular Oz

Poli econ con. Has made this not just a hazard of the profession
but a requirement

anne shew:

thoughts of the boxing of language ,in my never reclining bedding .. .

anne shew:

owen, have you been able to have any thoughts ,over the last month or two, on why they can not (will not) see that you and i are very different ?

Irksome though they may be, there is one thing to be said for catch phrases: they make it easier to tell whether or not someone's worth listening to. As soon as I hear think outside the box, or bring to the table, or the like, I know the speaker has absolutely no original thoughts to offer, and that it's safe to let my mind wander freely, or for me to physically leave the room if it's possible.

A lot of children think beyond the toy and climb into the box it came in.

anne shew:

that is because the box is better for toying in davidly.. ,

I monger fear on behalf of the Cthulhu Brothers


for whatever it is worth, gasbagger Steven (oopsie, AUGUSTINE!), I've finally managed to write words, about your high protest about censorship, in the "censor" thread, 'below.'

I get it, di: this is your rumpus room, you cook late night meals here and everybody knows your name. I am but an interloper with "high protest" on the brain. Don't feel slighted if I skip the pleasure of your probably brilliant, score-settling manifesto. But in the right eyeballs, it might just save a (teen) life!


OT, but it's nice to see a cruise missile liberal getting into mildly hot waters.

Peter Ward:

I love the irony of using a stale cliche to inspire original thinking. I makes me laugh every time I hear it. War is peace. Trite is original.

Peter Ward:

What's the Sinhalese place, by the way? My own textile mill's not too far.

anne shew:

steven, if you are not looking back at the last post as you suggest, there was a question that i wanted to ask of something that you say on the last post ,i'll put it here for if you are still looking in on this post , of your mention of tourette's , do you really have ,..or did your saying that mean something else to you ?

Al Schumann:

sk, that's delicious. Disgrace and humiliation suit him. The NewsBuster wingnuts have done God's work. Zakaria can reinvent himself as a Fox News commentator. Or maybe join whatshername at NewsMax.

@anne: i like your schtick. The problem with diane's is that it isn't original. But both of you are far more noise than signal. Is that on purpose?



Fuckquery is a well beaten sand ass

Double OT :
The link to the great Bethune
And posting at this site no less
What ever has become of him
And I must add his ilk as well

Types that Actually knew a good deal of macro ...

Now save Al
Seems round here
to be dark sky humanists
all the way down

anne shew:

steven ,it seems indirect ,of electrical signaling ,in that i do not want to take over here, i am a quiet person , but very brave of speaking up ,out here in living . / my asking was something of .. . mike f. using tourette's in the way he has on the theater of war post here ,


Sinhalese: 28th between 7th and 8th, north side of street. A real hole in the wall. I can't remember the name, alas, and won't be back in the nabe till after Labor Day.


Dr. Kidneystone(= calculus, in Latin) mounts the quant pony again. Or vice versa. Put a feather in his cap and call it macro.

Post a comment

Note also that comments with three or more links may be held for "moderation" -- a strange term to apply to the ghost in this blog's machine. Seems to be a hard-coded limitation of the blog software, unfortunately.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Friday August 10, 2012 09:57 PM.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.31