… avoid mixed metaphors.

Southern Cal has always struggled to gain a competitive foothold in the world of college basketball while playing second fiddle to its crosstown arch-rival UCLA, coming close on several occasions only to have it torn away by scandal or impatience.

They create confusion. And note the connection between mixed metaphors and cliches (playing second fiddle). They often appear together. Avoid cliches.

Things get worse in a later paragraph:

The institutional decline of Southern Cal, as business consultant and educator Jim Collins would put it, came like a staged disease; an initially unknown cancer that ate away silently at USC fed by its own gluttony for success. At first, it was almost impossible to detect but easily correctable. If the powers that be could have saw the writing on the wall and slowed the bleeding, the program might have been saved. Yet USC sunk deeper and deeper into the quicksand of its own arrogance, until it realized that all it had accomplished had only come about because of broken rules and scorched earth.

Let’s unpack.

The institutional decline of Southern Cal, as business consultant and educator Jim Collins would put it, [Would put what? What in the first words of this sentence does the “it” here refer to?] came like a staged disease; an initially unknown cancer that ate away silently at USC [The reader feels a sense of dread as this overused analogy gets going.] fed by its own gluttony for success. At first, it was almost impossible to detect but easily correctable. If the powers that be could have saw [Wow. Forbes, we have a problem.] the writing on the wall and slowed the bleeding, [Again, note the combination of cliche – writing on the wall, stop the bleeding – and mixed metaphor.] the program might have been saved. Yet USC sunk deeper and deeper into the quicksand of its own arrogance, [The final stage of this staged disease is quicksand.] until it realized that all it had accomplished had only come about because of broken rules and scorched earth. [Can’t resist throwing yet another image – scorched earth – onto his pile of words.]

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3 Responses to “Scathing Online Schoolmarm says…”

  1. Michael Tinkler Says:

    Wow – you’re braver than I, UD – I wouldn’t have touched that second paragraph with a 10 foot pole.

  2. AYY Says:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “foothold” or “second fiddle” as used in the first paragraph. In the second “sunk” is wrong. So is “because of broken rules and scorched earth.” These are passive constructions that obscure what the author means, and besides “scorched earth”
    isn’t the right metaphor.

    Also, I guess it’s possible that something can be almost impossible to detect but can be easily correctable, but in the examples the author gives it seemed like it was one or the other, but not both.

  3. Pete Copeland Says:

    Without further ado, let me give you some sage advice: Avoid using clichés. Avoid them like the plague. In this day and age, you can easily find yourself simultaneously up the creek without a paddle and between a rock and a hard place as consequence of cliché overuse. This is simple nuts-and-bolts stuff in a nutshell. Last, but not least, there’s no time like the present—after all, today is the first day of the rest of your life—to hit the ground running and recognize that most folks wouldn’t touch you with a 10-foot pole if you used a lot of clichés. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist—or a brain surgeon—to see that if you eschew clichés, it will be a whole new ball game. Now more than ever, when all is said and done, I hope the young people reading this will take it to heart while leaving no stone unturned. After all, children are our future. Some of you may think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but I am not barking up the wrong tree and you can bet your bottom dollar you will find yourself high and dry if you don’t heed these words with your heart and soul.

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