You Can Put Lipstick on a Bad Writer, but…

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. And you can put a tired catch phrase in the mouth of a great orator, and it’s still a tired catch phrase.

Next thing you know, Sen. Barack Obama will be trying to turn chicken spit into chicken salad or lemons into lemonade. ‘Cause when the going gets tough…well, you know the rest.

I winced when I heard Obama drag out the lip schtick, not because it was a sexist remark aimed at the rootin’ tootin’ governor of Alaska, but because it is now a standard debating point of so many politicians, a fact demonstrated by video clips of Senator John McCain and Vice President Dick Cheney using the same gag. Gag indeed.

The line does have a down-to-earth quality about it, probably an effort by the elegant Obama to “get the hay down where the goats can eat it,” as we used to say in the South.

But it was George Orwell who advised us never to use an image we are used to seeing in print, or, I would add, a slogan we’re used to hearing on the air.

It is not that hard to come up with something original, folks; it’s just a matter of transforming the tired image into something surprising and new. So instead of lipstick on a pig, imagine these alternatives:

  • You can put a catcher’s mask on a ballet dancer, but it’s still a ballet dancer.
  • You can put a tutu on a sumo wrestler, but it’s still a sumo wrestler.
  • You can put a nun’s habit on a porn star, but it’s still a porn star.
  • You can put perfume on a skunk, but it’s still a skunk.
  • You can put a condom on a sperm whale, but it’s still a sperm whale.

Hey, I ain’t doin’ all the work, kids. Now it’s your turn. Add your best “you can put” saying to the Comments section of this article. One saying only, please. The winner gets an autographed copy of the book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.

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