Really Bad Ultimate Lines

The other night I was listening to some journeyman reporter eulogize a dead NCAA coach on NPR. Here was his last line:

We talk about a gentleman and a scholar, well he was a gentleman and a coach.

This is such garbage writing, but it looks and sounds so good doesn’t it? Audiences get such comfort and delight from parallel structures. It’s why callbacks in standup sets can get big laughs despite not being great jokes on their own.

This sentence doesn’t say a single thing other than “This coach was whatever a gentleman is.” But it has the whiff of profundity. All it takes is speaking a cliche, and then “correcting” or “specifying” that cliche by altering one word.

It’s my job in a sense to look for this stuff and I’m amazed at how often I find it. Or no: I don’t find it.

It finds me.

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