Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The visceral image of the “smoking gun”

by Rick Blechta

“The smoking gun.”

This is a very much-used — you could easily say overused — colloquial term, especially in the supercharged political climate of the US. But its use paints such a strong visual, it doesn’t tend to grate with me. Maybe I’m just not that sensitive to cliché or maybe it’s just that there really is no better term.

We crime writers deal a lot with smoking guns in our plots, but I can’t think of a time where the exact term was used in a book I’ve read. Certainly I’ve never used it — and I did a cursory check to be sure, going back six publications.

Personally, I still like it in that it allows one to immediately cut to the heart of an issue. “We’ve finally discovered the smoking gun and that’s going to lead us to exactly what has been going on.” “Smoking gun” tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it?

Not that the media cares much about overuse of a term, but good writing practice dictates that clichés should generally be avoided, and “smoking gun” certainly is used often enough to fall into that category. I’m sure it’s continued wide use is due to the fact that conveys so much information in only two words. That kind of shorthand is very useful for the media and people’s quick general understanding of what can be complicated ideas.

My question is this: since it’s become such an overused term, what would we substitute for it if it’s now time to move it onto the cliché pile?

Would anyone out there be willing to make a suggestion?

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