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Friday, January 11, 2013

Avoiding clichés | OxfordWords blog

Cliches. Well, my online editorial style manual frowns on them. But all it says is this:
cliche William Safire, Fumblerules, 1990: "Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague." And if you must use a cliche, don't put quotation marks around it.
It should provide more advice than that. Until then, though, Oxford's Web advice is useful.

First, it answers the question, What is a cliche? Briefly:
Cliches are words and phrases that have been used so often that they’re no longer very interesting or effective.
It then asks, What is wrong with using cliches? And it answers:

They tend to annoy people, especially if they’re overused, and they may even create an impression of laziness or a lack of careful thought. Some people just tune out when they hear a cliche and so they may miss the point that you’re trying to make.
Finally, it provides three Action points for avoiding cliches. Here are headings for each point:
  1. Think about what the cliche actually means
  2. Decide whether you actually need the expression at all
  3. Rewrite your sentence.
Oxford's article is featured today, Jan. 11, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.


  1. I think the problem with cliches is that they turn off the reader's interest.

    As soon as a reader encounters a cliche, that reader's mind says to itself "seen that before" and then goes off looking for something more interesting.

    And nine times out of ten, it isn't what the reader was just reading.

  2. I agree, Larry. If a reader is annoyed by the cliches, the reader might think the rest of the document is also filled with old, tired ideas and not continue reading it.


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