Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My Little Brother is So Smart

He sent this to the L.A. Times op-ed section. Did they print it? No. BUT, he reports, all the "think" phrases did mysteriously disappear about a week later...think this might have had anything to do with it?

To the Editor,

There's a newly-overused grammatical device taking over the pages of your publication. It's in op-ed pieces, current event stories, generally anything in print where the writer seeks to convey hipness. It's the word "think" used in place of "for example" or "such as." Has anyone else noticed this? Every morning I see it in yet another piece from some writer who I used to like until they pulled out this annoying cliché, clearly oblivious to the fact that it is a cliché, because they fastidiously avoid cliché. After all they're hip.

Think Meghan Daum. Think Patt Morrison. Think Rosa Brooks.

Somehow this offends me. "Think" is a command intruding on my reading experience, like bad music intrudes upon shopping or dining. Somehow it graduated from something kind of edgy and quirky to something that shows up in the lamest of mainstream publications. Think "24/7" in 2001. Think "Fiddy" right now.

Now at first glance one might come to the defense of "think" as a means of literary brevity. It's merely verbal efficiency; it tells the reader exactly what to do rather than burdening her with those old cumbersome illustrative phrases, which consisted of two words -- a whole extra word! Think "such as," "for instance," or even "e.g." which, while not even a whole word at all, forces the reader to go the extra step of deciphering a Latin abbreviation.

But alas, that argument tends not to hold water. When Dawn Chmielewski writes in the Sept. 16 LA Times "Think comedic horror, a la "Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein," it's preceded by this decidely overpopulated sentence: "The disturbingly realistic prop is the centerpiece of Upchurch's latest sketch, "Department of Doom," in which actor Neil Patrick Harris (of "Doogie Howser" and "How I Met Your Mother") plays a malevolent, Canadian-accented co-worker who joins Cubicle Carl on a morbid misadventure." This writer makes it abundantly clear that she's not trying to save ink way before the appearance of "think." Most of the others do too.

Worst of all is when someone clearly out of his element is so anxious to use this device that he attempts to stuff "think" into a sentence where something more traditional was really the way to go. Morris Newman writes in the Oct. 11 Times "Experimental houses have notable forebears in Southern California. Think Charles and Ray Eames' 1949 house in Pacific Palisades, a factory-like dwelling made of industrial materials ordered from catalogs." Um... okay. It's the literary equivalent of wearing Fred Segal to a funeral. It might have been cool somewhere else, but not here.

I'm sure this unwelcome new cliche will someday be outed in journalistic circles as the trite phrase that's trying just a little too hard. Until then, I place my faith in a few remaining writers at the Times to stay strong and avoid the group "think." Think Dan Neil.

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