Avoid Clichés: They’re Boring!

Woman yawning from your boring choice of phrase for writing.The utterances of political commentators are full of clichés:

The fact of the matter is … At the end of the day … He sucked all the oxygen out of the room …

A cliché is a phrase that is overused and lacks original thought. It could once have had meaning and novelty, but both of those characteristics have been lost through years of repetition.

Why should you avoid clichés?

For one thing, they’re boring; they show a lack of imagination.

For another, they can be confusing to non-native English speakers. Consider how much business is done internationally and how challenging English can be to master, even without these obtuse phrases.

Think about the strict, literal meaning of the clichés listed here, and then consider what their intended meaning is:

a diamond in the rough
A person who is generally of good character but lacks manners, education or style.

actions speak louder than words
What you do means more than what you say.

all’s well that ends well
Everything has turned out satisfactorily, even though the outcome had been uncertain.

baptism by fire
An introductory or initial experience that is a severe ordeal.

between a rock and a hard place
To be in a situation where one is faced with two equally difficult alternatives.

bring to the table
To provide something that will be a benefit.

every dog has its day
We’ll all have good luck or success at some point in our lives.

haste makes waste
You don’t save time by working too fast; hurrying will cause you to make mistakes, and you’ll have to take extra time to do the job over.

if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
It is a mistake to try to improve something that works.

in a nutshell
In the fewest possible words.

in the final analysis
In truth; when all the facts are known; when the truth becomes known.

it’s not rocket science
A pursuit, activity or endeavor that does not requires extraordinary skill or intelligence.

leave no stone unturned
Try every possible course of action in order to achieve something.

level the playing field
To give everyone the same advantages or opportunities.

low hanging fruit
A thing or person that can be won, obtained, or persuaded with little effort.

par for the course
What is normal or expected in any given circumstances.

people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones
You shouldn’t criticize others when you have faults of your own.

read between the lines
Look for or discover a meaning that is hidden or implied rather than explicitly stated.

the pot calling the kettle black
A situation in which one person criticizes another for a fault they themselves have.

the writing’s on the wall
The likelihood that something bad will happen.

thick as thieves
Two or more people who are very close or friendly; sharing secrets.

think outside the box
Think in an original or creative way.

uphill battle
A task is difficult because of obstacles such as opposition from other people.

when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade
A phrase used to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune.

woke up on the wrong side of the bed
To begin the day feeling unhappy and grouchy.

If you’re guilty of depending on well-worn phrases rather than fresh approaches to explain something, consider your reading audience. A cliché can seem concise when compared with its explanation, but it can be unclear or misleading.

Are there clichés that get on your nerves?

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)