Like quakes, disagreements are graded by scale, where a spat will escalate from fracas to clash, a few degrees above loggerheads. If a compromise can’t be reached, then expect crisis meetings, bitter rows, ugly scenes and/or bloodbaths, typically owing to the night of the long knives. Or worse, the full support of the board.

A spat will escalate from fracas to clash, a few degrees above loggerheads.

Fittingly, cliché stems from ‘click’, that crisp snap that lead slugs made when slotted into old printing presses. Despite the apparatus vanishing, the ready-made phrasings persist, where reprieves are last-minute, cornucopias are veritable, and a flagrant misuse of public funds draws widespread ire from the community.

Robert Hutton, the UK political correspondent for Bloomberg, started listing these clunkers a few years back. Verbs dominated, including slay, probe, axe, rort, slate and stymie. Then came the players, from barons to frogmen, firebrands and love rats, doyennes and kingpins.

Bailiwick and purview are among those words only journalists seem to use, in league with nascent and denizen, acolyte and wunderkind. Hutton’s doodling led to Romps, Tots and Boffins: The Strange Language of News (Elliott & Thompson, 2013) – a rollicking page-turner, as one critic described it: our cue to meet that other language.

Welcome to blurbese, where sagas sweep, debuts dazzle, romps are irreverent and muscular prose is heartachingly beautiful. We know the hype by heart. If not for a friend suggesting a novel is worth a read, we might never get past the twaddle adorning the back cover, from urgent re-imagining to life-affirming account.


I have a rule with blurbs: ditch any volume should the accompanying spiel mention portal, be that a grandiose entrance or a time-travelling wormhole. Sorry, but I don’t do ‘portal’ books, as I shared on Twitter, provoking a fierce response. Susan Wyndham, this column’s former editor, won’t subscribe to ‘kingdom’, while Leigh Sales draws the line at ‘sorcery’, “with medieval a close second”. Cartoonist Cathy Wilcox can’t abide by ‘zany’, in tune with author Zoe Norton Lodge’s ‘whimsical’.

The online riot showed how intimate we are with blurbese vocabulary, even if we’ll never be dedicated speakers. Other deal-breakers to find on the jacket range from harrowing to searing, wellness and holistic, runes and Oprah, epic and unputdownable.

Please note: if prose is numinous – run. Ditto for any mention of mankind and zeitgeist. While Tolkienesque is not the same as Tolkien, just as gritty can only apply to a novel that spends half the day in your beach bag.

Lastly, in a coruscating moment of redemption, blurbese and journalese can coalesce within a single phrase, where a novel is touted as ‘based on a major film’. Next you spot that phrase, dear browser, flee by foot.

Twitter @dontattempt

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