We’re sorry to say we missed this Washington Post list of top journalism cliches last month, but it’s a must read.
Writers often lecture PR people about phrases they should studiously avoid in press releases and pitches. But we rarely see such a rundown of easy linguistic standbys that reporters need to ditch along with last year’s BlackBerry.
The best part about this list is that—truth be told—we regularly use many of the suspect phrases ourselves! We used a big one in that last sentence, for example.
So we decided to pick out a few whoppers from the 150(!) to illustrate the fact that journalists are human, too—and sometimes it’s really hard to think of a better way to phrase an idea, especially when you have to write thousands of words a day.
1. “At first glance” – But we love this one!! How about “it may seem?” (That’s not on the list, but it should be.)
2. “The powers that be” – There has to be a more specific way to refer to The (Plural) Man, man.
3. “Outside the box” – Another won’t-die favorite. But what is that “box”, exactly? And who managed to fit the majority of human thoughts inside it?
4. “Imagine…” – As an opener, this word says “I know you’re not interested, so let me reframe the conversation*”. Only acceptable in movie trailers.
5. “Gestalt/Zeitgeist” – When you’re too embarrassed to ask someone for the definition of a common, non-English word or phrase, that doesn’t mean you’re dumb. It means everyone else is afraid to ask, too.
6. “The [anything] community” – SO TOUGH to avoid this phrase when making sweeping statements about target audiences. But as they say*, he finds no gain without the pain.
7. “Oft-cited/oft-mentioned” – How oft is “oft” though, really?
8. “At the end of the day” – Which day would that be? (We hope it’s a Friday.)
9. “In the wake of [anything]” – In the wake of a super-quick internal review, we plead super-guilty to using this generic “I’m about to make a gross overgeneralization” lead-in.
10. “In a nutshell” – Are we talking pistachio shell or cashew shell? Do cashews even have shells?
11. “Paradigm shift” – If a paradigm shifts, does it fall? And if it falls, who’s there to catch it?
12. “The new normal” – If Ryan Murphy can’t make it work, then no one can.
13. “Growing body of evidence” – You meant “one new study”, right? It’s true that some bones never stop growing, but by the time you’re 20 your body is pretty much done. Bad metaphor!!
14. “Fevered speculation” – Unless you’re describing a gaggle of tweens awaiting an in-person One Direction meet-and-greet, we’ll file this under “extreme hyperbole.”
15. “The argument goes” – Which argument? And why wasn’t I invited?!
Lest you think we’re lecturing everyone here from our digital bully pulpit (there’s another one), please feel free to let us know which words and phrases we need to abandon, like, yesterday. See what we did there?*
*You’d better believe those are on the list.
[H/T Paul Gillin]