Clichés to avoid (not like the plague)

Here is the memo I wrote this afternoon for one of my corporate clients about writing (per their request, of course):

What is a cliché?

Stick a fork in it: Clichés are words or expressions that have been used, said, written so often that they’ve lost their meaning.

Next time you write a cliché, you get the fork.

If something makes you want to roll your eyes (or gag) when you hear it, it’s a cliché.

Think about all the corporate-speak you’re subjected to the next time you sit in a meeting (or listen to a politician or corporate titan speak to the media) and you’ll notice that clichés are everywhere.

It’s lazy and boring to use clichés, so please: don’t do it—unless you want to look lazy and boring!

CAUTION: Here are some (lazy and boring) words and expressions that the business world overuses. Your customers will tune you out if you use them, so don’t.

Corporate-speak bingo (an extremely tiny list)

  • Problematic, problematical (Just say: it’s a problem)
  • Utilize (Classic Orwellian-speak. Just say: use)
  • 24/7 (just say: all the time, anytime, always…anything but 24/7: it’s so 1999)
  • Corporate veil (just say: corporate burqua, but please say it with sarcasm—eye roll optional)
  • Take it offline (just take it off, like the burqua)
  • Value-add (as opposed to all the useless things we offer and do)
  • Win-win
  • Bandwidth
  • Cascade
  • Circle back
  • Touch base
  • Going forward
  • Synergy
  • Leverage
  • Apples to oranges (or any combination of these two fruits—unless you are actually serving them in a meeting)
  • Reinvent the wheel (unless you are a Neanderthal, i.e., the original wheel inventor, this is not cool)

What did I miss? There are millions of these, but you get the idea. Once you’re aware, you’ll have a hard time sitting through your next meeting with a straight face.

The brilliant British author George Orwell started the anti-cliché revolution in 1946.

think of him next time you sit down to write (wikipedia.com)

Orwell’s six rules of writing. Do you need to write something? Here are Orwell’s six timeless and wonderful rules to live and write by:

  1.  Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. […or online, etc.: cliché alert!]
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I would add one thing to Orwell’s list: Use adverbs sparingly (Get it? Although see rule #3, above)

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