That's not what I'm talking about

Column by Craig Marshall Smith


I have no idea when “I have no idea” replaced “I'm not sure.” Most of the time when we say we have no idea we do have an idea, but “I'm not sure” is simply not as melodramatic.

All I know is that I am tired of hearing “I have no idea.” I am at the end of my rope. I am at my wits' end. It has become another “overly conventionalized linguistic expression,” and nearly a cliché by now. Most things that are said, you know, over and over become annoying, at least to a few of us who listen when someone is talking.

What would you think of anyone other than Rodney Dangerfield who started every thought with “I have no idea”? Rodney could get away with it, because he would tug at his necktie, jerk his head, and say, “I was so ugly when I was born that the doctor slapped my mother.”

Elocution has gone the way of handwriting. Most of us no talk so good no more. We get by, because it's no longer expected to be any better.

Ah, but when it occurs it can be wonderful.

There are some things that are said over and over that I never get tired of hearing. For one, “I love you.” Unless it's from Mr. Holly Martins in area rugs.

We resort to clichés because they are familiar, handy, and readily understood. Few of us have a gift for making ourselves understood without them. That's what I'm talking about. That's one of them right there. It was somewhat clever 10 years ago. Now it's a nuisance.

The French gave us the word “cliché.” It comes from typesetting, and the reuse of single slug of metal for phrases that were used repeatedly.

“A cliché is often a vivid depiction of an abstraction that relies upon analogy or exaggeration for effect, often drawn from everyday experience,” a Wikipedia entry says. “Used sparingly, they may succeed, however, the use of a cliché in writing or speech is generally considered a mark of inexperience or a lack of originality.”

It's not rocket surgery. It's been a hard day's night. Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder. See? Clichés and other phrases can be turned around, inverted, and even made into a malaprop (another column).

Shakespeare referred to the “comprehension of two auspicious characters.”

There is a song, “Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and few of us want to be misunderstood, so it's much easier to speak the tried and true (like “tried and true”) than to go out on a limb (there's another) and offer something obtuse.

But it can be fun when you connect, and the more you try to connect the dots (another) the better your chances are. You can't win if you don't play, although Fran Lebowitz said she has the same chances of winning the lottery whether she plays or not.

I once quoted Wayne Gretzky at an AA meeting, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take,” and later thought that was a mistake.

Words and phrases sometimes cross over from our occasional use to habitual use, and some of us don't even know it, or seem to mind, that they can be mind-numbing. If I hear the word “transparency” one more time, applied to the IRS, for example, I will have an ax to grind.

But it occurred to me that it might be kind of nice to be the father of a cliché, to be the one responsible for generating an expression heard night and day, around the world. I'd like to see how my verbal child was translated into German and Japanese. So I worked on a few, and I think I have one that will be picked up right away. Here it goes.

The early goat gets the moisturizer.

I have no idea what that means.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at


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