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Clichés: They’re a Dime a Dozen

Since I started this blog, I’ve been reading books on writing.  (Mike and Jeremy, my editors at Sales and Marketing Management magazine probably wish I had begun upgrading my writing skills a long time ago.) 

I’ve also been reading the blogs of businesspeople who write well, such as Geoffrey James and John CaddellMy brother, Lee Stein, renowned in the direct marketing arena, is a great writer, but he doesn’t have a blog. 

Blogs are supposed to be somewhat informal, but I think crisp, descriptive writing makes the experience so much better, even if you aren’t conscious of the quality of the writing.

I’ve recently learned to stay away from clichés.  Paula LaRocque, author ofThe Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well, impressed me when she pointed out why you should not use clichés: because everyone else does.  Not only does eliminating clichés make your writing richer (you’ve got to come up with cliché-replacements), but not using them differentiates you from other writers.  Now she had my attention. Differentiation.

I notice clichés a lot more when people are speaking than when they are writing.  When I observe sales trainers or sample a speaker’s content on a video, I notice that many of make regular use of clichés.  I think those clichés distance them from their audience.  Many clichés are generational.  If you’re a boomer, speaking to millenials, and you say, “fold up like an accordian,” you’ve dated yourself and probably forfeited some degree of your audience’s attention and your credibility.  “There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” will have the same result and probably get PETA after you, as well. 

In the past I’ve used clichés a lot.  I thought they were clever.  Now I’m working hard to replace them with more colorful and appealing phrases.   If a cliché makes it onto this blog, please bring it to my attention.  Or if you’re in the audience when I’m speaking, same story.

I’ll be writing about buzzwords soon.  The buzzword is a cousin of the cliché.

If you’d just rather continue using your favorite clichés or even learn a few more, try Cliché Finder.


5 Responses

  1. Great post. I will read your posts frequently. Added you to the RSS reader.

  2. Dave, thanks so much for the mention. You really hit a home run with this post. Businesspeople like to rely on old warhorses or greatest hits. To make an impact, you’ve got to put yourself out there–you can’t be a wallflower. Myself, I try hard to hit the nail on the head with everything I write, and to keep my reasoning in the ballpark of common sense.

    Or something like that.

    regards, John

  3. You can take that one to the bank.

  4. At the end of the day, well, it’s the end of the day. Your comments on cliches are the best thing since sliced bread (are there not so many things that have come along better than sliced bread?).

    So ping me and let’s touch base.

  5. “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish … the business of life is mainly carried on by means of this difficult art of literature, and according to a man’s proficiency in that art shall be the freedom and the fullness of his intercourse with other men.”

    ~ Truth of Intercourse – Robert Louis Stevenson

    I came across this quote some time ago. It fascinated and inspired me. Sometimes the life and soul of that which lives when I put pen to paper is inspired by another’s words. Such is true of many, I suppose. Why else do I remember the profound quotes and immortalized thoughts of others?

    I, too, have recently been purposing to eliminate the use of clichés in not only my speech, but my writing as well. It is difficult, however, because sometimes I find it is dependent upon the cooperation of others. Some either do not know how or choose not to participate in a conversation involving the lack of repetitiveness.

    I love words, especially their etymology, and far too many are left rusting on the pages of Webster’s, hardly ever visited, many completely forgotten. As generations pass, these beautiful words are not only left behind, but a lot of them are being redefined; corrupted, I call it.

    I came across your “blog” (sorry, I hate this new word) while researching languages of different generations. My purpose is to put together something for a small class I facilitate on Sunday mornings regarding this current generations language skills.

    To quote Ravi Zacharias: “Watch a generation’s words and you will find what they are doing with reality”.

    This is the quote that inspired me to look to the past. You may have heard Tim McGraw’s song “Back When” –

    “… Back when a hoe was a hoe
    Coke was a coke
    And crack’s what you were doing
    When you were cracking jokes
    Back when a screw was a screw
    The wind was all that blew
    And when you said I’m down with that
    Well it meant you had the flu
    I miss back when …”

    When I first heard this, I thought, “WOW!” I miss those days, too.

    And, Dave Stein, here’s one from you – “If a thought or opinion comes to mind when reading a post, that’s the idea! Don’t be a lurker. Comment!”

    I skipped over to the “lurker” post of yours and had to admit, I am one. This time, however, I decided to follow your lead and not allow my thought to get lost in the dark. So, there you have it (oops, is that a cliché) – this is what I’m thinking.

    Perhaps you were not intending to provoke these kinds of thoughts (nothing about Sales Leadership here, and I may or may not ever visit your blog again, but I take away with me a brand new determination to do my part to maintain the usage of those units of language that are far too often shelved.

    Moral – you never know what thoughts will be born in the heart of another when they hear what leaves your mouth (or mind).

    ~ Gerrie

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