A few months ago I wrote about an absurd organisation of self-publicists called the Plain English Campaign. The joke - not that it's funny - is that a body ostensibly concerned with clarity of language is both incompetent in its own use of English and heedless of the task it sets itself. Urging a good and precise use of English is a public service; the Campaign, however, spreads not clear language but that snobbery about ideas that is one of the most debilitating characteristics of English public life. (Compare what the word 'intellectual' suggests to the average Englishman compared with the average German - for whom the term is entirely legitimate and comprehensible - and you'll gain an impression of the Campaign's ethos: a snide, obscurantist and peculiarly parochial mockery of those who are supposed to lack practical common sense.)
The Campaign has again been treated with undue respect by almost all the broadsheet newspapers today, and the BBC, for another exercise in smugness:
"At the end of the day" has been voted the most irritating phrase in the English language in a survey. "At this moment in time" and "like", used like a punctuation mark, shared second place and "with all due respect" came fourth.
The Plain English Campaign questioned 5,000 people in over 70 countries.
"Using these terms in daily business is about professional as wearing a novelty tie or having a wacky ring tone on your phone," the campaign concluded.
Now, there is nothing wrong and much that is valuable in shaming the users of cliché into abandoning their comforting but otiose figures of speech. Private Eye famously denounced the redundant use of 'situation' (as in 'We are in a war situation') some years ago, to good effect. Even the most careful writers are susceptible to reaching for hackneyed phrases in order to avoid the task of finding fresh ways of expressing what they mean. (I note without surprise that I used the cliché 'no longer on the scene' in one of my posts this week, and it will probably not take much effort to find others.) The Campaign is right to deride such circumlocutions as "at the end of the day" and "at this [present] moment in time" (my mother's most-hated cliché, incidentally: she is a professional translator, who once put the phrase in the English version of an Asterix book - in an exposition of a nefarious plan by a Roman economist, naturally - in order to make plain her feelings about it).
But the Plain English Campaign opposing cliché is like Jeffrey Archer calling for higher standards in public life. Here is what the Campaign's spokesman, John Lister, said of this 'survey':
"The problem with cliché is they're [sic] things that were once fresh but are now so overused that, as soon as you hear it, your mind shifts your impression of the speaker," he said.
"You're thinking 'Why are they using these phrases that are so old hat?'"
You read him right: clichés are old hat. Dead as a doornail, in fact.