Penkava: Catchphrases? I've written the Cliffsnotes

They are really clever. You know, the people who have coined various catchphrases that have become part of our daily vocabulary. From Fred Flintstone yelling “Yabba dabba doo!” to Forrest Gump’s philosophical conclusion that “Life is like a box of chocolates,” resistance is futile.

It all seems like a lot of yadda, yadda, yadda, but, let’s face it, the tribe has spoken, and what you see is what you get, Kimosabe.

That’s why it’s been so interesting watching the recent development of another new vocabulary tag in our culture. I’m talking about the ubiquitous “fiscal cliff” expression that has been bantered about to infinity and beyond.

We all might think that this “fiscal cliff” term is something new, but in doing a little research, I discovered that it was first used by a New York Times reporter way back in 1957. It evidently didn’t catch on back then, and we waited until a senator recently used the phrase again. It was later picked up by Reuters news agency. Ben Bernanke scooped it up, and since then it’s been hasta la vista, baby.

I’ve been doing some thinking about this “cliff” concept. Perhaps this idea has some potential traction and can turn into a dy-no-mite expression. For example, note some of the possible applications for this versatile term ...

The Glacial Cliff

This describes the precarious situation with professional ice hockey, as in, “Today the NHL slid closer to the edge of the Glacial Cliff as the entire season is threatened with cancellation.”

The Anniversary Cliff

As the wedding anniversary comes and goes, clueless husbands cartwheel over this cliff, explaining, “Honey, I really knew about it … I’ve got some special plans … I’ll be right back.”

The Cholesterol Cliff

With the constant onslaught of fast food, consumers take a bite out of life expectancy as they chomp on Gordita Nacho Cheese Grandisimos and Texas Triple Angus Beef Goliaths, while doctors advise us, “Your numbers are taking you closer and closer to the Cholesterol Cliff. Perhaps a regular diet of the Super Deluxe Baconzilla Breakfast Combo isn’t a good idea.”

The Cable Bundle Cliff

After enjoying the first year of relatively modest cable fees, the honeymoon is over as we tumble over this cliff. Without any fanfare our next cable bill politely but firmly informs us that, although they love us very much, there are some new strings attached to our relationship. Suddenly we find ourselves breaking bad like mad men as we try to curb our enthusiasm for premium channels.

The Catchphrase Cliff

As we move through our lives, we find ourselves repeating expressions that we promised ourselves we would never utter. We admonish friends to “Live long and prosper” and cry out warnings of “Danger, Will Robinson!” Something easy to do is accomplished “like butta” and we declare, “I pity the fool!” as we place a hotel on Boardwalk. If we’ve fallen over the Catchphrase Cliff, then Houston, we’ve got a problem.

I’m not saying that this cliff catchphrase idea will catch on, but I bet you we’ll be hearing about other cliffs in the days to come. Why, not long ago we came close to careening over the Mayan Calendarian Cliff. New year’s exercise goals have many of us jogging over the Treadmill Cliff. And with all the recent invitations to dinners at friends’ and relatives’ houses, there are not a few of us who have gone munchingly over the “Spicy Taco Cheese Ball Acid Reflux Cliff.”

Yep, life seems like one cliff after another, doesn’t it? I suppose it’ll just make things worse if we give special names to them. Perhaps it might be better if we just avoid using catchphrases altogether. We’ll just talk like normal people.

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He has recently fallen over the Cubs Vintage Baseball Card Collecting Cliff and wonders whether anyone has a 1910 Joe Tinker they want to sell. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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