Image courtesy of dno1967b’s Flickr account.
If, like many Americans and other global investors, you’ve been anxious about the fiscal cliff or the debt ceiling, remember: it could be worse. Every cloud does have a silver lining. Even though it’s darkest before the dawn, tomorrow always brings another day.
So, in case you haven’t already realized, here’s a big spoiler alert: I’m writing about trite, overused phrases that become clichés — and how you can avoid them.
Avoid clichés, whether old (birds of a feather flock together; misery loves company) or new (fiscal cliff, debt ceiling, spoiler alert), at all costs (Forgive my idiom.). They’re pat phrases that become so overused they lose their impact. Not only are they a lazy way of communicating, they also induce lazy, uncritical responses. Yet, few of us are ever incited to take action because of a cliché! And in business, clichés will detract from whatever points you hope to get across to your reader.
As recent as the beginning of this year, when you could not turn to any news source without hearing about that terrifying precipice of impending financial disaster, a.k.a. the “fiscal cliff,” Lake Superior State University issued a list of words that should be banished for 2013. (Among them were fiscal cliff and spoiler alert.) But why stop with 2013? Why not make it your all-time resolution to ban clichés? You will stand out (Yes, I was tempted to write that oft used cliché, “from the pack”), and your written and spoken communication will reflect clarity and originality. To help keep clichés out of your work, here are a few tips to help you.
Cliché avoidance tips:
-Consider what the cliché you’re thinking of using actually means. (One source is The Phrase Finder). Instead, seek clear, plain language alternatives. And use both a dictionary and a thesaurus to help you find appropriate replacement synonyms.
-Familiarize yourself with the worst cliché culprits. One way is to look at Forbes’ 89 Business Clichés That Will Get Any MBA Promoted And Make Them Totally Useless (And take heed of Forbes’ warning: “Of course, if you really become a samurai master of using all 89 of these clichés, you probably have no hope of moving up to upper management, because your mind and vocabulary will be filled with complete and utter nonsense.”)
-Reject the cliché du jour. When you hear or see a phrase regularly turning up in the media, you may be witnessing a cliché in the making. Be cautious about using it. Similarly, when politicians repeatedly use an invented phrase, consider using alternative language. Be sure to analyze the meaning behind the cliché; then see if there isn’t a more direct way of expressing the idea. (For example, instead of “fiscal cliff” you might say “potential economic crisis.”)
Clichés are closely linked to jargon; but they are different. Jargon tends to be used as a form of exclusivity among a certain group to keep others out. Clichés, notwithstanding, become so widespread and so overused they simply lose their value. So when you’re writing or preparing a presentation, make sure you don’t flog a dead horse. While there’s life, there’s hope. And my hope for you this New Year and every year, is that you communicate without using clichés.
Which clichés would you like to see banned? Let me know firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on my blog.