Miscellaneous / Sport

Calling all cliches: Need to know

The world of football clichés isn’t really our concern in this occasional column. We note these things, but happily they are outside our terms of reference.

Occasionally, though, sporting clichés crawl out from the back pages and try to establish themselves in the real world. They normally die when exposed to an alien atmosphere – as in ‘a big ask’ a few years back – but they need to be watched, lest they get a grip.

And there’s a new phrase attempting to make the transition: ‘that tells you all you need to know’. Here it is in its natural habitat:

  • ‘Nearly being out of contract seems to spur him on and that tells you all you need to know.’ – Partick Thistle manager, Alan Archibald, on Steven Lawless, Daily Record 5 February 2016
  • ‘When a substitute who comes on with 16 minutes left wins the sponsor’s man of the match award, it tells you all you need to know.’ – Times 8 February 2016
  • ‘“He had a quiet 60 minutes but then he scored a goal, created a goal and creates two or three more chances,” [Slaven] Bilic said. “That tells you all you need to know about Dimitri Payet.”’ – Sunday Telegraph 14 February 2016
  • ‘The lad has represented Everton so he’s clearly got something about him. That tells you all you need to know.’ – Sheffield United manager, Nigel Adkins, on Jose Baxter, Sheffield Star 16 February 2016
  • ‘Old Trafford executive vice chairman Ed Woodward says the Chinese Super League would be a good market into which to sell players. Tells you all you need to know about Ed.’ – Sunday Mirror 21 February 2016

And now here it is in the outside world:

  • ‘There are no ovens in Wetherspoon’s kitchens, but there are industrial microwaves. Tells you all you need to know.’ – Western Mail 29 February 2016
  • ‘The tour is run by Carol Donnelly, who was awarded the MBE for services to tourism, which tells you all you need to know about how good they are.’ – Scotland on Sunday, 24 February 2016
  • ‘The Goose Fair, in October, is the highlight of the social calendar, which probably tells you all you need to know about this flourishing place, patronised by wealthy farmers.’ – Sunday Times on Tavistock in Devon, 20 March 2016
  • ‘That the MP in charge of the parliamentary Standards Committee, Sir Kevin Barron, has resigned his post and reported himself to the Standards Commissioner – for accepting payment for organising events in the Palace of Westminster – tells you all you need to know about the impossibility of our MPs being allowed to supervise themselves.’ – Sunday Telegraph 13 March 2016
  • ‘A glance at the back cover of the Travellers’ Survival Kit: Soviet Union & Eastern Europe tells you all you need to know about travel in the Eighties behind the Iron Curtain: “How to avoid arrest in Prague … Why you should avoid top floors in Albanian hotels … How to check out at Checkpoint Charlie.”’ – Independent 26 March 2016
  • ‘While the Tories are slashing support to poor working families, they’re cutting capital gains tax for the wealthiest. That tells you everything you need to know about their priorities.’ – Angela Eagle, New Statesman 1 April 2016

There are problems with this. First, it’s not always clear what is supposed to be known: in the above example, what does Carol Donnelly getting an MBE actually tell us? Second, it’s often absurdly limiting: there’s probably quite a lot to know about travel behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s – more than could fit onto a back cover, at any rate.

The phrase suggests the idea of being complete, comprehensive. You’d expect something titled All You Need to Know About Windows 10, for example, to give you a pretty extensive account of the subject. But that’s not how it’s being used here. Instead it attempts to reduce a potentially complex argument to a single point, one example that renders further explanation unnecessary. Which is silly. You may disagree with George Osborne’s approach to taxation and benefits spending, but it would be childish to assume that even his policies can be fully expressed in a soundbite.

There are only two options. Either the person using the phrase is convinced that they have an extraordinary ability to spot the killer detail. Or they don’t think we can decide for ourselves what we need to know. Neither of which is particularly appealing.

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