Wake up, typist! Wake up, you simpering synthesizer of sentences! An accounting must be made, and it will not wait!"

I rolled over and looked at the digital alarm clock -- but I don't know why I bothered. You could set your watch by this guy. Indeed, the clock said it was 2:47 a.m., so indeed, my visitor had to be The Ghost of Columns Past, come once again to my bedside to make me answer for my sins.

As always, I began with great politeness.

"Ghostie, it sure is good to see you -- if only I could see you. Did the company have a good fourth quarter? Did you get home for the holidays?"

"Typist, the banality of your interrogation bespeaks a woeful absence of analytical acuity. As does the very profession in which you labor."

I sat up in bed and raised my voice. "Listen, My Man, are you warming up for a lecture about the evils of newspapers? Because if you are, the best thing to do is to write a letter to the editor. Address it to Editorial Page, 1150 15th Street . . . .

The ghost raised his voice even higher. "Typist, has it occurred to your poor excuse for a brain that if I had wanted to write a letter, I could have done so without your suggesting it? I don't simply wish to vent my spleen, typist. I wish an explanation of certain linguistic characteristics that I see all the time in those rags you call newspapers."

"Go bother Edwin Newman," I said. "I'm too tired." And I buried my face in the pillow.

"Awaken, you key-tapping catastrophe! Awaken, I say!" And boy, did he say it! The walls shook. The bed rumbled. I was sure the roof would fly off at any moment with the force of his enunciation. But when I looked over at Jane, she was z-z-z-z-ing as if she hadn't heard a thing.

"All right, Ghostie," I sighed, propping myself up on my elbows. "Much against my better judgment, I will answer for All Of Journalism. Go ahead. What's bugging you?"

"First, the phrase, 'hastily called press conference.' Why are press conferences never called in a leisurely way?"

"They are, Ghostie. But they're much less fun. If a P.C. is called hastily, that means something juicy just happened, or is about to. You never read about calmly called press conferences because reporters who go to them fall asleep halfway through."

"I scarcely imagined that you were capable of such a cogent explanation, typist. My compliments. Next, the cliche, 'dog and pony show.' It never seems to have anything to do with animals."

"It doesn't, Ghostie. A dog and pony show is anything that's overly long and overly 'produced.' The political conventions were dog and pony shows. So is any street fair where they feature falafel from 49 countries. You get the idea."

"I do, typist. Very good. But now, the cliche that gives me greatest pause: 'There's good news and there's bad news.' Isn't there always, typist? What is the point of killing trees to say this if it is so obvious?"

"Ghostie," I said, "sometimes writers are a little reluctant to get right to the point. They think it's more artistic or more clever to dress up a thought in less direct, less stark phraseology. All they're doing is giving you the whole nine yards."

The ghost moaned. "The whole nine yards? Were we not just talking about cliches? Have you learned nothing, typist? You are hideously, horrendously HOPELESS!" And with that, he was gone.

Jane stirred. "What were you saying about getting dressed up?" she asked.

"Nothing, sweetheart." I replied. "By the way, did I ever tell you where the expression 'the whole nine yards' comes from?"

"Levey," she said, "will you pul-eeze go back to sleep?"