Some things that might be so obvious to people using only English, are totally invisible to people who have English as their second, third, fourth or fifth language, and are living in a non-English speaking country. I learned English as my fourth language, so it is hard to guess, what are the combinations of words to avoid. I do not have such a strong feeling for the language to be sure of the difference; therefore I decided to write a blogpost about clishés and try to collect some good links and hints for me and other people like me.
Scott Bury, an editor, journalist and writer living in Ottawa, says that clishés are words or "phrases that sounded fresh once, but have had the life squeezed out of them through overuse by lazy writers." So, these are the combination of words that show clearly you being a careless writer. Clishé is like an intellectual shortcut, the difference between art and copies.
So lets now make a short collection of not-to-do-it-at-home-while-writing found online.
List of "new clichés" by Scott Bury from 2011:
thin blue line, meaning the police force
fallen on deaf ears
snapped like a whip
peppered with gunfire
pushing the envelope
out of the box
going forward, meaning the future
tagged and bagged, meaning a dead body
more than meets the eye — the writer’s job is to show the reader more than their eyes will see.
Dr. Michael Spear ´s journalistic clichés from the WritersWeb:
|all walks of life||give the devil his due||never a dull moment|
|behind the eight ball||hook, line, and sinker||nipped in the bud|
|bitter end||by hook or crook||patience of Job|
|calm before the storm||in the nick of time||paying the piper|
|checkered career||in the same boat||sands of time|
|chomping at the bit||leaps and bounds||selling like hot cakes|
|cool as a cucumber||leave no stone unturned||stick out like a sore thumb|
|cry over spilled milk||lock, stock, and barrel||whirlwind tour|
|fall on deaf ears||long arm of the law||winds of change|
|from time immemorial||march of history||writing on the wall|
The same writers´ webpage is teaching how to identify clichés by yourself.
When writing, question any comparison or image you are about to use. Cliches often sneak in the barn door (that's a cliche, by the way) when we try to be descriptive. Is the phrase you're about to use one that you've heard frequently in casual conversation, newscasts, and advertising? If so, it is probably a cliche or on its way there.Worn-out or vague phrases found in student work, and alternates (or at least advice):
|everyday life||can be cut completely or made specific. Consider: everyday life is very different for a college student and, say, a stock broker or homeless person!|
|in today's society||today, currently|
|pros and cons||advantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits|
|people||which ones? Be specific.|
|society||who is "society"? Too many alternates exist to list. Instead, be specific about which specific group of people considered|
|this day & age||today, presently|
Pearl Luke ´s collection of
I was going through some of them, there are 681!!! I do not think that I use that many myself, it is probably because I am not so familiar with the overused phrases in the first place, so I am not able to use them. Some of them are actually quite funny, like
curiosity killed the cat
I do not think I will be using it in my academic writing even though research is all about being curious and many experiments have been made using small animals, usually rats or rabbits. Well, that was a Nordic joke.
David Z. Morris, a writer, musician, and currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of South Florida, compares jargon and clishés in his blog "Minds like knives". Even though the name of his blog "minds like knives" sounds in itself a bit like a clishé to me, I invite you to take a look at what David is writing.
Jargon condenses a whole discourse into a single word, and when used judiciously, and with a consciousness of audience, makes writing richer. A cliche, by contrast, is the performance of a conventional linguistic gesture that has actually lost whatever original meaning it might have had, a verbal twitch that has more to do with sounding like an academic than actually thinking carefully.
He has a quite good description about what we should be avoiding while writing academic texts. He does not stop with this explanation but goes on stating that clishés in academic writing "deserve to be banned from the lexicon forever. There's a wealth of these that enrage and frustrate me, utterly empty phrases that cloud minds and swell word counts to absolutely no effect. Since the journals are providing new bad writing all the time, I'm hoping the topic will keep me angry and productive basically forever."
Well, there you go! Some people really hate clishés and are ready to spend their free time to fight against this kind of bad language. We have to be careful not to be pushed to the walls and having our throats cut off by these angry academic people.
At the same time I see why they are angry. Some people do misuse the language in a way that should be pointed out. Scott Bury suggests: "Think of new ways of getting these images across. No, it won’t be easy, but did you think the writer’s job would be easy?" He says that writing must be simple but not easy.