Cash-strapped consumers (From the cranky editor files)

December 27, 2010

“Cash-strapped” needs some time to recover from overuse. About 500 years should do it. “Cash-strapped consumers” too.

Why do we like it so much? I’m not sure. I guess:

- We find it hard to say “people who can’t afford as much as they used to,” or “poor people” or “people trying to save money.” Those are lengthy and even awkward, depending on the sentence in which you use them. The problem with “cash-strapped,” when you examine it closely, is that it is so convenient that almost no other construction will do, so we use and use and use the phrase until it’s warn smooth like a stone. And that’s the problem, it has no traction left. It sounds like one more word in the dictionary, not an evocative phrase.

- It has a nice dose of alliteration, a rhythm. Nevertheless, reliance on one rhythm for all your songs risks condemning you to the status of go-go music on the world stage. After 30 years, only people in Washington, D.C., where it came from, still listen to it.

While we’re at it, why not just call them “people?” “Consumers,” unless there’s a specific government definition in a consumer confidence index story or something similar, sound like pods of flesh and blood designed to help a company make its numbers. They’re humans, and “people” usually works.

When I hear people talking about “consumers” in our stories, it’s always an executive or a financial analyst talking about the desires, habits and shortcomings of consumers as if they were missile parts or copper supplies. They are, in a sense, but they are not. They are we, and we hate the idea that we might be cogs or parts. We’re human, after all! I would not call humans exceptional on this planet in many ways in which we’ve traditionally thought of ourselves. However, I think it’s OK to afford the common man a little bit of extra credit over a rare earth or a precious metal. Let’s try to say “people” when we can. Or “shoppers” if we must.

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