Journalists are pack animals. If someone does a story, others often follow. So it is, too, with words and phrases. One will spot a new, fresh-sounding word or phrase, and pretty soon there is a stampede to rival anything outside the Drew Peterson court proceedings.
There are fad transitions, too. Among the most popular of these, if not the most popular, is “He is not alone,” along with its close relatives, “she is not alone” and “they are not alone,” with occasional guest appearances by “I am not alone.” It usually appears after an opening anecdote—apparently to tell the reader that the situation in the anecdote is not unique—but it also appears later in articles.
Here’s one recent example:
“Planning on serving Mom chicken this weekend? You’re not alone. Sanderson Farms, a Mississippi poultry producer, says it always sees a surge in sales before Mother’s Day. ‘We sell more boneless breasts in the week before Mother’s Day than we do any other time of the year,’ Sanderson Farms CFO Mike Cockrell said.”
It’s anything but new, but it seems to be growing faster than the national debt. Over two days, uh, alone, these people or things were not “alone”: job seekers joining a network; women going to work with bare legs; Seattle Mariners who aren’t producing enough hits; people who are sick of posts about Dale Earnhardt Jr.; people who feel abandoned by a university that changed its development plans in a bad economy; people looking at black streaks that have run off from their roof gutters (though that was used as an ending, not an opening transition); mothers expecting to have to clean up the mess in the kitchen on Mother’s Day; people telling Mine That Bird that he has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the Preakness; organizations weighed down (ahem!) by the health-care costs of treating obesity; people who think “college” means limited curriculum; colleges that are seeing surges in applications; people wondering why a beauty queen is grilled about her position on gay marriage when the president is not; tournament golfers facing a course for the first time; people calling for the resignation of the chairman of the New York Fed over allegations of conflict of interest; Washington Capital players thinking it was a very long game; states investigating possible corruption in investments; young Americans who don’t identify with a specific religion—well, you get the idea.
Not only are we not alone, we are very crowded.
“He is not alone” is a cheap and unnecessary transition, not just because it’s so overused that it’s become a cliché. Nearly every time, you could drop the “he is not alone” and simply describe the legions of others, and the reader wouldn’t miss a beat.
Let’s take the example above:
“Planning on serving Mom chicken this weekend? Sanderson Farms, a Mississippi poultry producer, says it always sees a surge in sales before Mother’s Day. ‘We sell more boneless breasts in the week before Mother’s Day than we do any other time of the year,’ Sanderson Farms CFO Mike Cockrell said.”
If you agree that “you’re not alone” is not needed, you’re not alone.Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.