When Words Collide

Recently we discussed the idea of a repository for automotive cliché. But in some cases, remove the offending phrases and the entire edifice collapses.

The result, right there in full colour. Image: Autocar
The result, right there in full colour. Image: Autocar

During the early years of the 20th Century, US politician, William McAdoo once waspishly said of President Warren Harding, “His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea.” As putdowns go, it’s rather good, but frankly as an opening line for an article (such as this one for example), it does leave an author open to the whiff of pretension.

Stones, glass houses – I’m there before you. It’s a bit rich of me to fling projectiles at another writer and generally I refrain from doing so, but I really couldn’t let this go unmentioned. Last week, UK weekly, Autocar, ran a comparison test between the Porsche 718 Boxter and the current Lotus Elise Cup 250 – which is available on its website for all to enjoy.

Now of course, the very idea of comparing these cars is futile, since even the slugs in my garden could correctly guess the (predetermined) outcome – Porsche beats Lotus. But the issue here isn’t the pointlessless of the exercise, especially since it gave the Autocar crew a nice day out in the Peak District. No, the prime beef here is Nic Cackett’s verbal prolixity, a verboseness that steadfastly ploughs through the rev limiter of verbiage, crosses the central reservation of garrulousness, before mounting the barriers of tautology and smashing to pieces in a shower of pleonasm. Yes indeed, with this piece Mr. Cackett, our Cup truly runneth over.

In his defence, he refrained from going the full Ffrench-Constant on proceedings, which at least made the piece somewhat readable, but at some risk to the hapless reader’s composure. Take this gem for example: “When we arrive, early in the morning, it is as misty as untreated glaucoma and saturated in what must have been week-long rain. In earshot of the road, there’s enough water babbling past to cool a plutonium rod thicket.” I wonder what Lord Leveson is up to nowadays, because there are sufficient crimes against similes here to warrant a tribunal.

Of course it’s entirely possible the estimable Mr. Cackett was short of ideas for his article, and I do have some sympathy for the task of writing what was a foregone conclusion in a manner that entertains, especially when there was so little left to inform. But might I return for a moment to William McAdoo’s slapdown, because in addition to two sportscars, there was no shortage of pompous phrases blipping and winding through Snake Pass in search of… what exactly? A decent sub-editor perhaps?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

4 thoughts on “When Words Collide”

  1. Is it possible the journo was indulging in an in-joke? It sounds like a satire on Anthony ffrench-Constant. Incidentally, his contributions to Car now consist of 900 word articles chopped into very small bits, the Q&A format. What is the point of hiring A ff-C and forcing him to write to a template?

  2. I’ll step outside my shattered greenhouse for a moment to comment. Much as I trust Eoin’s judgement, I thought I should read the piece first. But starting with the first sentence’s cack(ett)-handed ‘notoriously great’, I decided it was too early in the morning.

    Did Russell Bulgin invent this school of contemporary British car journalism – the need to be constantly ‘funny’? But Bulgin was the Chris Bangle of car writing – he knew just what he was doing and he did it very well. The people who feel obliged to imitate this style usually don’t do it well.

    Looking at old-school journalism, it can be very factual. Motor Sport’s wonderful archive section has articles by the respected Boddy and Jenkinson that read like the work of serious schoolboys, and not the types who joined the drama classes. Pretension and inappropriate humour would have been anathema to them.

    Obviously there was wit and humour before Bulgin. You found it in Car, though not as much as false memory might recall. As much as an interest in US cars, the Stateside writings of Brock Yates, David E Davis and Henry Manney III caused me to buy both Car & Driver and Road & Track as a teen.

    But all these people read as rounded human beings. Even Clarkson, though really not my cup of tea (stick to the tried and tested, Sean) has a style that complements the man. I guess that even Oscar Wilde had off days, but the applique ‘witticisms’ of Nic Cackett and his contemporaries are just an irritating distraction.

    Then I skipped through to the comments section of the piece and realised that you get the audience that you deserve.

  3. It only took four comments in before a below the line commenter invoked Troy Queef. Spot on. This kind of prose needs to be both pruned and lampooned. (I say this full in the awareness that I am the sort of person who laughs at his own jokes before writing them down.)

    1. My sheltered life means that I have managed to miss Mr Queef’s output entirely until now. A quick slurry at 9/10s on the old search engine means that I’m now as up to speed on him as a cheetah with a roman candle up its jacksie. I’m wondering whether I shall ever write again for DTW.

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