News & Politics

Loathsome Words of the Day: Wild and Wildly (but Not Wilder!)

"For what we are about to see next, we must enter quietly into the realm of genius." RIP, Gene Wilder.

A lot of clichés have a touch of the wild. Wild horses couldn’t drag me away. Take a wild guess. You’re a wild man! Paradoxical, given how unwild clichés are: They’re fully domesticated through familiarity, tame.

As I’ve written elsewhere, a writer should never settle for a cliché. It’s like store-bought cookies: prefab, a little boring, as opposed to, say, homemade snickerdoodles—fragrant, each a slightly different shape, trailing cinnamon sugar from plate to mouth. Why leave self-expression to the Keebler Elves? (Okay, so I happen to like to bake.)

When I see wildly popular or wildly successful, I see someone pulling a cardboard box from a shelf.

As for wild abandon, I came across it in an otherwise good book I’m reading. The hackneyed aspect speaks for itself. As for the redundancy (a wild “complete surrender of inhibitions”!), how much wilder can complete surrender get? Satyrs prancing in the forest?

Which made me think of Gene Wilder, who died the same day I started writing this, though he wasn’t the spark. The first time I saw Young Frankenstein, I was working as an usher at the White Flint movie theaters (now part of a vast absence on Rockville Pike where the mall used to be). This was a revival of the film, five years after the initial run—something they used to do in those days. Cloris Leachman as Frau Blücher confessing her relationship with Frederick Frankenstein’s grandfather—“Yes! Yes! Say it! He vas my . . . BOYFRIEND!”—was approximately the funniest thing I’d ever seen. It might even be called a display of abandon. As could many of Gene Wilder’s own moments onscreen.

At the end of every movie in the theater I was assigned to, while the closing credits began, I was required to lose some of my own inhibitions, as I randomly reminisced in a tweet earlier this year:

Hardly the definition of abandon—a crowd leaving the theater in the wrong direction—let alone wild abandon. Especially on those occasions when it wasn’t a crowd at all. Ever see the post-apocalyptic Robert Altman bomb Quintet, starring Paul Newman? I did as an usher, and I was in no danger of being trampled.

But that would indeed have been the scenario after Young Frankenstein, starring the charming, talented, and—one last time in his honor—wildly popular and successful Gene Wilder.

Not loathsome by a long shot.

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Senior Managing Editor

Bill O’Sullivan is senior managing editor; from 1999 to 2007, he was a features editor. In another lifetime, he was assistant managing editor. Somewhere in the middle, he was managing editor of Common Boundary magazine and senior editor at the Center for Public Integrity. His personal essays have been cited three times among the notable essays of the year in The Best American Essays. He teaches at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.