Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Lurchers

A lurcher, yesterday.

The Lurchers

Most journalists know the power of a good cliche: that hackneyed phrase that gets over an idea, without too much effort. Political journalism, especially, could barely survive without the use of world-weary metaphors and timeworn conceits.

Right now the cliche of the political moment, in the UK, is "lurch to the right". As David Cameron's Conservatives trot out a number of robust Tory policies - the ending of inheritance tax, opposition to the EU Constitution - so the massed ranks of political scribes have lined up to describe this as a "lurch to the right".

So common is this cliche (I've counted it a dozen times in two days) the reader's eyes glaze over when they see it. Yet the phrase merits closer examination.

For a start it feels like we read "lurch to the right" more often than "lurch to the left". But is this perception true?

Yes. Google the phrase "lurch to the right" and you get 25,000 hits. Google the phrase "lurch to the left" and you get barely half as many. This is especially striking, in that the second phrase alliterates. And if there's one thing journalists like almost as much as a cliche, it's a phrase that alliterates. Yet the hacks don't seem keen to say "lurch to the left".

What's going on? I think there's a subtle, and maybe subconcious agenda here. The idea, for many liberal-left journalists, that a move to a more rightwing position could be timely, sensible, clever, or deft, just feels ridiculous. No, such a move has to be stupid and clumsy, a staggering "lurch": like the monster of Doctor Frankenstein on lithium.

By contrast, a move to a more leftwing position feels, for many journalists, radical and exciting, daring if controversial - never a lumbering, Neanderthal "lurch". That's why such a move to the left is more often described as a "swing" or a "shift", or even a "veer".

Interesting things, cliches.


Marina said...

Hmmm. Interesting. I like it. I lurching to agree with you.

Marina said...


See? Too hasty.