Let's wrap up "whine about words" week with why alliteration can be so wretched.
It's not literary alliteration that irks me so much as the way alliteration passes for cleverness in real life, even when it requires sacrificing an enormous amount of precision. Yes, I know, no one ever got hurt because of Taco Tuesday, and I like Happy Hour as much as the next guy (well, more), but much alliteration is simply egregious. (And I know the title of my last post was alliterative. But it was also precise, and "unmatched synonyms" or "improper synonyms" wouldn't have been any better.)
Have any of you ever been invited to a "chat and chew"? Beyond being two things that really shouldn't go together, and beyond my personal loathing for the word "chat," I can think of very little that sounds as unappetizing (it conjures an image of cows in a pasture for some reason)...except perhaps for a "brown bag," which I guess is supposed to conjure images of school lunches, but of course school lunches are not what pops into my mind when I'm hungry. If I ever swallow poison and need to promptly vomit it up, however, that'd be a fairly good thing to think about. (And while "potluck" is not alliterative, it's perhaps one of the only work/social get-together ideas worse than the "chat and chew" and the "brown bag," and I don't especially understand what the "luck" part is supposed to be, either.)
Some people seem to think that any seminar, lecture, or discussion held between the hours of 11 and 2 is automatically a "brown bag." I cannot think of the last time I saw a brown bag in a room where a "brown bag" was going on, even if the whole crowd brought their lunch. And I tend to not like to bring mine to things like that. My attitude is: listen, don't imply I should be bringing my lunch to shit, man. I'll eat when I want, and most likely alone in my office afterward at my own leisure, thank you very much.
Journalistic alliteration is genuinely clever perhaps 2% of the time, and the rest of the time it drives me crazy, both because it sacrifices precision and because it is intended to be so damn cutesy. (You notice serious stories are hardly ever treated to alliteration: ever hear anyone call September 11 "terrorist Tuesday," or refer to "hijackers' hijinks"?)
What irks me is when you know there are better words, but the journalist chose the one he or she did solely because of the first letter. So the pop star Rihanna is a "Bahamian beauty," Bernie Madoff is a "fraudulent financier," what's going on in Wisconsin is "Madison mayhem," our Hill correspondent brings you "Senate shenanigans" and "House happenings." (I won't even bother with traffic and weather.) Yes, I think it's safe to say that alliteration is often present when newspapers engage in "purple prose" and some of those words hardly ever get used unless paired in some kind of ridiculous alliteration. (I personally find it impossible to take the word "shenanigans" seriously, regardless of how it is used.)
Even when not alliterative, this obligation to be cutesy can backfire, leading to nonsense. My favorite example that makes me want to throw things comes from the Express, the Monday through Friday D.C. newspaper whose prime purpose seems to be serving as floor covering on most Metro cars. Each day they feature the so-called "Blog Log" with short quotes from various blogs. But since "blog" is short for "weblog," "blog log" is on par with "ATM machine" in terms of needless redundancy.
There are lots of reasons I'm glad I never pursued journalism as a career, but this cutesy alliteration shit would make me hang my head and shrug in shame over such lousy language.