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 (

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)