The Magazine

'Make No Mistake'

The sky's the limit when it comes to clichés.

Apr 10, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 28 • By JOE QUEENAN
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Here the formidable gasbag has scored an improbable hat trick: first, by telling readers what they already know (the greatest living tennis player likes to win); second, by inserting a pointless analogy likening one sport to another; and third, by commandeering a rapturous banality to make a phoned-in article about men's tennis sound like the Gettysburg Address.

Readers may protest that I overstate my case, that the exhortation to "make no mistake" is no more irksome or ubiquitous than "edgy," "rock my world," or "let's give props." Perhaps. But what concerns me is the Polonius Syndrome: An inane phrase starts out innocently at the loftiest journalistic levels, but then wends its way downward, so that before you know it you have food critics declaring, "Make no mistake: Polenta is quite bland." Or rock critics grumbling, "Make no mistake: Jimmy Buffett's music has little appeal to the hip-hop community." Or meteorologists warning, "Make no mistake: If it rains hard enough, everybody gets wet."

It is not the inanity per se that is the problem; it is the repetitive, inescapable nature of the idiocy that drives intelligent people mad. As Lesley Gore might put it: You would cry, too, if it happened to you.

Joe Queenan is the author, most recently, of Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglophile's Pilgrimage to the Mother Country.