Saturday, September 13, 2008

For writers: clichés . . . and how to get rid of them

I've subscribed to Daphne Gray-Grant's weekly Power Writing newsletter for a couple of years now. I love it. I find it inspirational and helpful all at the same time. But this week's issue may have outdone them all.

Daphne gave me permission to reprint it here (with proper attribution, of course!):
PW# 137 - Why you just can't stop yourself - cliché consciousness part 2

Holy Toledo! Last week's Power Writing column on clichés caused zillions of honest-to-goodness linguaphiles to come of out the woodwork. It's clear as a bell that more pure and simple advice on avoiding clichés would be helpful, or at least a welcome force for change.

So, better late than never, here is some more straight-from-the-shoulder counsel on how to cut these clichés off at the pass and turn those lemons into lemonade.

Last week I suggested making one read-through for clichés a core part of your editing process. Read each sentence slowly, preferably out loud, asking yourself: are any of these words too predictable? Is this image fresh? Have I slipped into jargon or reflexive and mindless writing?

This is a good first step, but it may not be enough. If you work for a company where clichés and jargon are part of the atmosphere, you may be so immersed in bad language that you can't smell it anymore. So here are some additional suggestions.

As I recommend in my book, use the Cliché Finder. It's a fun little online service that allows you to paste a block of text into a box. The software then combs through your writing, hunting for and highlighting clichés, which you can then remove. It doesn't catch everything but it's

For the opposite perspective, have a look at the site Westegg. It helps you generate clichés, which seems a bit dumb on the surface. However, this can help build your awareness and the site's 10 random cliché generator is especially amusing.

Consider subscribing to the Buzzwhack service, which will keep you on your toes by sending you a fresh buzzword plus definition every day.

And Power Writing subscriber, John Care from Mastering Technical Sales has some good suggestions, too. He's written a terrific three-page document called "Eliminating Corporate Fluff." Here are three of his key recommendations:

*Look for and eliminate made-up words such as flexicurity and flex-ponsive.

*Look for and eliminate buzzwords such as scalable, open or architecture.

*Look for and eliminate nouns masquerading as verbs, especially retask, architectured and professionalizing. (Ugh! Ugh! Triple ugh!)

Finally, here is a sampling of responses from other Power Writing subscribers on the topic of clichés they love to hate:

From Barbara: I avoid them like the plague!

From Trish: Tell it like it is!

From Anna: Take it to the next level and kick it up a notch

From Henry: There's a simple solution to these cliches -- we need to think outside the box!

From Doug: I am currently conducting a war on a number of, as in "we received a number of letters on the topic." One is a number. Ten million is a number. How many letters did you actually get?

From Mark: You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk (a line from the cliché-ridden Aerosmith song, Amazing.)

From Frank: Wake-up call and going forward

From Barb: tried and true

From Deborah: Let's not forget literally which nowadays apparently adds emphasis rather than reality.

And from Michael: My heart skipped a beat and I breathed a sigh of relief to read your stranger than fiction piece regarding cliches. I hate them too, like a stick in the eye or maybe even a pain in the neck. Frankly, at the end of the day, it's like a burr in my saddle to read the newsletters of others until I'm blue in the face, feeling all along that there's 57 channels and nothing on.

Have a nice day!
Again, to subscribe to Daphne's free newsletter, go to her website.
blog comments powered by Disqus