We have informal discussions among the faculty at VMI every Friday at lunchtime, and last week we talked about student writing (among other things). I was asked what I look for in student writing and, without having really thought about it much, I mentioned a list of things, including accuracy in spelling and grammar, and an absence of bull. This article puts verbiage and cliché in the same category (although surely the only thing to do with cliché is to mock it, since complaining about it is itself unoriginal and overdone). Avoiding verbiage should lead one to ordinary language, but then that is likely to be populated by clichés. It can also be hard to understand, as we see in the discussions at New APPS of the sign "Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit."
For what it's worth, my reading of the sign is much the same as Mark Lance's (see below). To my mind, this is the language of The Wire, and it translates as The situation [or: system] is a dysfunctional sham, "shit" meaning this, "fucked up" meaning broken, and "bullshit" meaning fraudulent. This is a pretty accurate expression of what the protesters believe, but it isn't really effective communication if others struggle to make sense of it.
Here's what Lance writes about it in response to John Protevi's implication that the sign's syntax is mangled:
I've been trying to decide for a while, and I guess I don't think the syntax is mangled. The subject 'shit' is colloquial for 'stuff' - implied salient and important stuff. And he is saying both that it is fucked up and that it is bullshit. If we take the relevant stuff to be policies of wall street, can't those policies be both fucked up and bullshit?
Clearly I'm avoiding reading grad student papers here, but the other interesting thing is how essential it is to the message - the content, not just the affect of the message - that it employ obscenities. One just can't say that without those sorts of words.
Also really funny.He doesn't say why it's funny. I think it's funny because most of the characters in The Wire, the only people I know of who talk this way, are both African-American (the sign-holder is not) and unlikely to be politically engaged enough to join in this kind of protest. It is not the language of political signs or banners, in other words. But it is the language of very direct speech, with no verbiage or bullshit about it. Part of the comedy value comes from the contrast between the language used and the occasion of its use. Part of it comes from its truth, openly acknowledging something that generally goes unsaid. And the something in question is not that the system is in need of reform (although I think it is), or that the theory that wealth at the top of society will trickle down to everyone else is open to question. The something in question is that that 'theory' is a lie and that the system is obscene. Part of the obscenity has to do with the world that The Wire shows, or the contrast between this world and the world of Wall Street. The wealth of the top 1% is supposed to be justified by their superior hard work and intelligence, and by its inevitably trickling down to everyone else. A realistic look at the world shows this to be a myth. We don't all have the same opportunities and we don't live in a meritocracy. What to do about this is a tricky question, of course. (Although see here for some ideas.) The least we can do, though, is to notice myth and fantasy, and see them for what they are. We need, as they say, to call bullshit.