Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How writing bland prose is like pulling a London horse cab

The filmmaker was known for choosing ------- projects, so many critics were surprised that her latest effort was uncharacteristically ------- .

a) innovative . . hackneyed
b) risky . . controversial
c) unusual . . refreshing
d) cerebral . . complex
e) rewarding . . suspenseful

The SAT Question of the Day above turns on a word we find in Harbrace Rule 20c: Choose fresh expressions instead of trite, worn-out ones:
Trite, or hackneyed phrases are those so worn by constant use that they have lost whatever picturesqueness they once possessed. For this reason, we must avoid them.

Trite, or hackneyed expressions:

  • red-blooded youth
  • busy as a bee
  • to point with pride
  • last but not least
  • it goes without saying
  • bite the dust
  • breath of fresh air
  • smooth as silk

The etymology of the word "hackneyed" is interesting. It probably comes from Hackney in East London, where carriage horses were raised. The word "hack," as in a taxi cab or a banal writer, is a short form of "hackney."

Basically, the history of this word tells us that, if we use our words all day, every day -- the way Londoners used their carriage horses -- our words get worn out and lose their vigor and freshness.

hackney (HAK-nee)


  1. Trite.
  2. Let out for hire.

verb tr.

  1. To make banal or common by frequent use.
  2. To hire out.


  1. A breed of horses developed in England, having a high-stepping gait.
  2. A horse suitable for routine riding or driving.
  3. A carriage or coach for hire.

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