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She grew up in a stately home on a tree-lined street in a leafy suburb. Blenheim Palace, built by the Duke of Marlborough, is one of the stately homes of England. (An epitaph for Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect, plays on the traditional Latin wish that the earth may lie lightly on the dead: “Lie heavy on him, Earth! for he/ Laid many heavy loads on thee.”)
Today, of course, any brick 4BR, 4BA valued above a couple of hundred thousand dollars can be called a "stately home," especially if it is surrounded by those tall leafy objects.
The drug dealer grew up in a gritty neighborhood in the inner city. Gritty has become the adjective of choice for down-market, unattractive, lower middle class or impoverished — not the sort of place where journalists choose to live. And inner city no longer means a neighborhood deep in the city. It can be a neighborhood at the city limits. The phrase is a code for saying that poor people, probably black, live there.
He died last week after a long battle with cancer. Using this metaphor for a lingering disease relieves the writer of the burden of coming up with something original.
She received a prestigious award from the university. Yeah, and she probably has the prestigious “World’s Best Mom” coffee mug on her desk. If an award has genuine prestige — the Nobel Prize, say — no one calls it “prestigious.” And if its prestige is limited to about 50 people, then prestigious is a meaningless and wasted adjective.
In a matter of seconds, his dream turned into a nightmare. You can use an obvious antithesis like this over and over. Jesse Jackson’s “Never look down on anybody unless you're helping them up” shows how easily this sort of thing can be done.
The Cabinet officer defended his controversial policy. Well, if were non-controversial, there would be no need to defend it. Controversial is one of those empty adjectives used to tell the reader that this story is very, very important. Why the policy is controversial, or who is involved in the controversy, can be skated over.
Please note: If some killjoy on the staff has prohibited controversial, merely because it means nothing, feel free to use contentious instead. It has much the same effect: an additional word without significant additional meaning.