Not Looking A Gift Horse in the Mouth: Enjoying the Subtle Art of Idioms in Professional Writing

Given that the Internet allows (requires?) that we all use written language to express ourselves, I have found that I am far less disappointed by grammar mistakes than I am by appallingly poor choices of words. I could handle the split infinitive in the newspaper this morning, but not this.

E. J. Dionne, in The Washington Post’s op-ed pages, was explaining why liberal Catholics came to the support of the Church during the dilemma over providing contraception and what it means in the larger “culture war” to have that group surprise the other ends of the spectrum. Not a message that I have any trouble with. It was the following line, referring to why liberals stood with the Church:

[It] is a profound respect for the fact that on so many questions that count, Catholicism walks the talk and harnesses its faith to the good works the Gospel demands.

Does that make other people’s eyes ooze? Walks the talk. Sometimes idioms are necessary. Usually it’s when you’re talking to someone in an elevator about the weather, but I’ll grant that they aren’t without some use in writing. Yet they are lazy, downright lazy. Unless Mr. Dionne was operating under a vicious imposition of word limits, it shows that he felt no need to expend any mental energy on actually describing why Catholicism is still important to people. And oh! The things he could have said! There is beauty in human faith in the divine, regardless of the institution, and only a lack of skill with language could cause someone to avoid the opportunity to write about that beauty. Perhaps, though, he was skipping over it because he felt, contrary to the tone of the rest of his piece, that discussion of religion is too controversial, that truthfully revealing why he himself finds it important puts him too closely in the company of those “other” Catholics.

Regardless of the particular motivation that caused the phrase “walk the talk” to greet me like a mouse tail in my bowl of cereal, there are other sentence-makers out there committing crimes of word choice every day. How will they be stopped? Can they be stopped? If we can’t prevent it in the newspaper, there’s no hope for social media. There’s only one way to save us. New government program: a thesaurus in every home.