GrammarPhile Blog

Identifying Clichés: Bid Adieu to the Tried and True (Part 1)

Posted by Terri Porter   Jan 13, 2015 7:00:00 AM


avoid clichesOut with the old, in with the new. Familiar? Yes. Inspiring? Not so much.

That’s how it is with clichés — we love them and use them because they’re easy to remember, don’t require much effort or creativity, and are a widely understood shorthand that captures the essence of a person, situation, event, etc. But they also make for writing that feels tired and unoriginal. And if familiarity breeds contempt, it’s easy to see why editors attack such hackneyed expressions with the fury of a woman scorned.

Because clichés are so common, they can creep into your writing without you even realizing it. Can you find the clichés in the previous paragraph?

Notwithstanding that making New Year’s resolutions can itself seem cliché, resolve now to reinvigorate your writing with fresh, original language. Yes, it takes more time, but your readers will appreciate it. And it’s not as hard as you might think. In this post, we talk about how to find clichés. The next one discusses how to get rid of them.

Because we’re so accustomed to using clichés, rooting out these expressions can seem challenging — like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Bingo. That cliché just made its way into this paragraph because I wanted to include a simile to illustrate my point, and that’s the first one that came to mind.

That approach is fine … for a draft. It’s often easier just to get the thoughts on paper initially and then polish them in the editing stage. You may even recognize a cliché for what it is as you’re writing it. Good for you! Just highlight it as something you need to change while editing and continue writing your first draft. Then go back through what you’ve written, multiple times if needed, to highlight the other offenders.

What if you have a hard time spotting clichés even on a second or third read-through? Because editing your own work can be difficult (we’ll talk about that in a future blog post), online resources such as the Cliché Finder can be helpful. It also might be a good idea to ask others to read what you’ve written, specifically to weed out clichés. If you don’t have anyone to turn to, (1) consider expanding your network and (2) check for the following clichés commonly found in business writing:

  • at the end of the day
  • back on track
  • the fact of the matter
  • few and far between
  • a level playing field
  • in this day and age
  • to/for all intents and purposes
  • when all is said and done
  • in the final analysis
  • come full circle
  • par for the course
  • think outside the box
  • avoid someone or something like the plague
  • in the current climate
  • mass exodus
  • at this moment in time
  • the path of least resistance
  • a baptism of fire
  • in any way, shape or form

This list, from an Oxford Dictionaries blog post, is a good start. Other examples abound. As you notice them in your or others’ writing, start your own compilation, and ask colleagues to contribute. Consider adding jargon or buzzwords particular to your profession or industry (which we’ll discuss in a future post), and before long you’ll have an indispensable reference for replacing worn-out phrases with clever, original ones.

In the comments, tell us about some clichés you’ve encountered in your field, and we’ll compile a Top 10 list for a future post.





Topics: business writing, idioms, cliches

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