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Functionally Outfoxed

Back in high school, I had an English teacher who introduced the class to the phrase ‘functionally fixed’. She used it to point out snippets of our writing assignments that had lost impact through common use, phrases that weren’t quite ‘cliche’, but didn’t grab the readers’ attention, either.

Later, I learned more about the meaning and origins of ‘functional fixedness’, and I’m not convinced she borrowed the right term for the job. Those words she kept using — I do not think they mean what she thinks they mean.

“If she wanted us to avoid cliches, fine. But she was going to lose some sleep over it, dammit.”

Of course, that didn’t stop her from red-markering ‘FF!!‘ all over our damned papers, and bumping us down a grade or two based on her subjective old woman notions of what she considered creative prose. After a while, we morphed ‘FF’ to mean something completely different and far nastier, but there was little we could do. She was the teacher, after all, and we were the snotty teenage peons. Having a clever turn of phrase deemed ‘functionally fixed’ seemed a mysterious and arbitrary decision, but we could hardly fight it.

So I tried to beat her at her own game.

Every time I had the opportunity to use a phrase I suspected would get the dreaded ‘FF!!‘, I’d go back and change it — which is exactly what she wanted. But what I’d change it to was the weirdest, most disturbing equivalent I could think of without being overtly obscene. If she wanted us to avoid cliches, fine. But she was going to lose some sleep over it, dammit.

So I waxed pervertically to get my points across. Here are a few of the substitutions I used:

‘He felt like he was preaching to the choir.’ =>

He felt like he was wearing tassels to the strip club.

‘She was hot like fire.’ =>

‘She was hot like a napalm enema.’

‘He left the meeting with his tail between his legs.’ =>

He left the meeting with his ego wrinkly and shriveled up inside him.

‘It was as plain as the nose on my face.’ =>

It was as plain as the nipples on a wet nurse.

‘They said old man Johnson was as crazy as a fox.’ =>

They said old man Johnson was nutty like a YMCA locker room.

‘She was the sort to make mountains out of molehills.’ =>

She was the sort to make melons out of mosquito bites.

The good news was, I never saw the dreaded ‘FF!!‘ on my papers again.

On the other hand, my English paper grades didn’t go up at all. And I spent a lot of time with the school psychologist after that. That would have sucked, if she weren’t a MILF in shrink’s clothing.

You know, so to speak.

Permalink  |  1 Comment

One Response to “Functionally Outfoxed”

  1. kerry says:

    well, she probably wouldn’t have liked my writing, then. i seem to be quite fond of using cliches. of course, now that i say that, i can’t think of a one. poop.

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