The cold clichés of winter

— Ah, the white stuff!

As Dean Martin warbles “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” Old Man Winter dumps a foot on us the night of the day after Christmas.

The past year came in like a lamb and went out like a lion.

So wake up! Winter’s here! Smart mammals hibernate. Humans shovel.

In the mid-1970s I was a cub reporter at the Palladium-Times in Oswego, where, as you can well imagine, we all had to write worsening weather stories on a regular basis. That being the case, the repetitive nature of the reporting moved most of us to indulge in crude literary devices generally considered taboo in journalism, things like starting a story with a question:

How much worse can it get?

Or a quote:

“I’ve never seen it quite so deep in December,” said Mary Smith of West Seneca Street.

Or, worse yet, a well-worn cliché:

Old Man Winter reared his ugly head last night as a lake-effect blizzard buried the entire town.

In an admirable effort to upgrade our prose, my publisher, Clark Morrison III, issued a fiat. In no uncertain terms and using adjectives that couldn’t be printed in family newspapers, he loudly forbade reporters and editors from ever again using the term “Old Man Winter.”

Morrison had grown up in the 1930s in snowy Oswego before graduating from Colgate University where he no doubt developed his scorn for clichés. He soon added “Jack Frost” to our forbidden list. I don’t recall him issuing an opinion on Frosty the Snowman.

Frosty, Jack and the Old Man aren’t actually clichés, per se. They’re simple personifications of otherwise inanimate things or concepts.

In any case, before the dead of winter descends, let’s remember that cold hands mean warm hearts, hearts as pure as snow. Let us not succumb to the winter of our discontent, nor be left out in the cold. We may have only a snowball’s chance in hell to go toe-to-toe with Old Man Winter. It may be colder than a witch’s britches, but we can’t get cold feet! Yes, listen to the lion of winter roar.

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