Are you ready for your final destination?

Reading time: About 3 minutes

I travelled to Calgary to teach this week — and the airline flight provided a clear lesson on the importance of self-editing.

Regardless of what my family will tell you, I try really hard not to rant. And by “rant”  I mean, “complain in a relentless and long-winded way.” This is slightly different from the dictionary definition, which suggests that to rant is to speak in an angry or violent manner.

I mention this after spending last week delivering two three-hour workshops on writing — one in Vancouver, the other in Calgary — for the fabulous RonCon2010.  As a brief aside let me say that it was a terrific conference with interesting speakers (not commenting on myself, here), really helpful volunteers and an attentive audience.

Anyway, despite being given a three-hour platform, I don’t think I ranted once. (If you attended and want to disagree, I’ll meet you outside for a restorative chat…)

I left Calgary in a screaming hurry because my presentation ended only 90 minutes before my flight home. Even though I whirled into the airport in a tizzy because I hadn’t been able to grab lunch, I still managed to avoid ranting. Just call me Ms. Cool as a Cucumber.

But things changed following my one-hour flight back to Vancouver. What set me off? It was the phrase, “where ever your final destination takes you.”

How many times do you think you should have to hear a phrase like that on a one-hour plane ride? Apart from the obvious answer — never — you’d think you wouldn’t have to listen to it more than, say, once.

Instead, every time the pilot or the flight attendants opened their mouths, that horrible, what should we call it? — inanity, cliché, bromide — spewed forth. So, here’s my rant for today. Be deeply suspicious of phrases like “final destination.” Why? Let me count the problems:

1)   I don’t know about you, but my final destination is a pine box in a grave. Until then, my destination is the city listed on my plane ticket. Yes, I know that planes going from Vancouver to Calgary may subsequently go on to Toronto, making the phrase “final destination” seem the very model of accuracy — but hey, let’s give the passengers a little credit. They know where they’re going. A quiet reminder not to get off the plane in Calgary if they’re heading for Toronto would be better and clearer than this “final destination” nonsense.

2)   Furthermore, “final destination” is redundant. What is a destination if not where you are ending up? Sure, some people on their way to New Zealand will stop for a few days of relaxing in Hawaii or the Cook Islands before going on — but that simply means they have two destinations in fairly short order, not a sub-final and final one. And, anyway, what business is it of the airline? Their job is to get you to the place written on your ticket.

3)   How on earth does a destination take you anywhere? A destination, after all, is simply where you are going. It’s the plane that’s taking you, isn’t it?

Why am I ranting about this to you, oh hapless newsletter subscriber? The vast majority of you don’t even work for airlines (but, if you do, please talk to your superiors.) I can virtually guarantee, however, that many of you are making the same kinds of mistakes.

For example, how many of you write about your personal pet peeve (redundant) or your personal favourite (redundant) or how often do you use phrases like “walk the talk” (cliché), “right-size” (offensive because it candy-coats something that’s a tragedy for many families), or “centered around” (think about that phrase for a second. How could anything be centred around something else? The correct expression is “centered on.”)

We all have sloppy, lazy ways of talking. It’s almost as if we turn off our brains and then let whatever is rattling around in there fly loose. Of course, it’s okay to do this when you’re writing a first draft.

But you certainly must fix any problems on revision. And here’s the tricky part of the deal: If you’ve heard the clichéd or cockeyed phrase before, then it’s going to sound normal, perhaps even sensible.

When you edit your own copy, your job is to turn into a master detective. Get out your magnifying glass and justify every phrase. Make sure your writing is fresh, clear and, most of all, logical.

And then, I promise, neither your readers nor I will need to rant.

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