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September 23, 2005

Cliché Watch Special Edition: We Have A Problem

Yesterday, over at Poynter Online, Al Tompkins had a premonition. "So far, I have not seen anybody stoop to the 'Houston, we have a problem' headline," he wrote. "Somebody will." At first, only satire sites, like The Spoof used the joke-y headline on stories about the potential destruction caused by Hurricane Rita. Then Big Media jumped on board.

Perhaps the biggest offender is the New York Times, which splashed Houston, You Have a Problem atop an otherwise well-reported business section article about the potential impact of the storm. CNN reporter John Zarella used the phrase in a broadcast today. The Enid News & Eagle topped its AP article on the hurricane with the phrase.

What's wrong with quoting from the Apollo 13 near-disaster? According to astronaut James Lovell, Jack Swigert actually said, "Houston, we've had a problem here," after the second oxygen tank failed on the shuttle. "Houston, we have a problem" is the tagline to Apollo 13, the movie. Silly references to movies are best left for sillier topics than giant hurricanes. For example:

The Altoona Mirror used the phrase "Houston, you have a problem" to describe the dreadful play of NFL's Houston Texans.

Houston, we have a problem: Australia turn to Leroy
was the title of an article about 18-year old Leroy Houston, who was named to the Australian National rugby side despite his preference for New Zealand's All Blacks.

Golf: Houston we might have a problem is the title to a small piece on ICWales about Garry Houston's chances of winning the Omega European Masters. (He eventually slipped into a tie for fourth.)

Houston's, We Have a Problem is the title of an article in Nashville Scene about the closing of Houston's Restaurant.

Spot an interesting cliché, simile, or turn of phrase on television, in a magazine or newspaper, or on a news website or blog? E-mail Gelf with your find.

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