Hello and welcome to the Brew’s monthly-ish blog post on all things grammar, style, and proving English degrees are good for more than just book recs. In this edition, I’ll tackle clichés and beg the question of why they’re low-hanging fruit that you should avoid like the plague or else you’ll be up a creek without a paddle at the end of the day.
This is an especially salient topic for Morning Brew’s readership; the business world is crawling with meaningless jargon and clichés, some of which border on the nauseating. Am I the only one who gets queasy when people say “open the kimono”?
To start, let’s define a cliché
In writing, a cliché is an expression that has been overused to the point where employing it can indicate writerly laziness or unoriginality. Some examples:
- Take this offline
- Putting all eggs in one basket
- Boil the ocean
- Be all, end all
- In today’s world
These phrases are linguistic shortcuts; they make it easy to communicate a concept without the burden of having to summon a description of your own.
Important caveat: Using these expressions is not capital-b Bad and using them does not make you a Bad Writer or a Dumb Person. The key is to be conscious of when you’re using them, and why. Because you might be using them to avoid figuring out exactly what you mean.
We avoid clichés because they’re (often) crutches
And that means they confuse the intended meaning. For example, say you’re in a meeting and you pitch a great idea. Your boss’s boss says, “Absolutely, that’s a no-brainer.”
- What she means is that’s a good idea. But the phrasing kind of implies that there’s nothing between your ears?
How to avoid clichés
When you’re writing and you find your fingers itching to type out a common or cringey phrase, ask yourself: What do I actually mean to express? Am I suggesting we need to “move the goalposts,” or are we changing how we measure something? Are we “taking this offline,” or discussing it in a different forum?
- Thesaurus.com is free and it’s great and it’s the secret sauce behind ~80% of jokes in the Brew.
- In many cases, you’ll find that you can drop the phrase altogether.
This is the section where we spotlight errors in the Brew and beyond.
This one trips me up a lot. But the phrase “reining in” refers to slowing down a horse, and it’s what should have been used in the example above instead of “reigns.” That’s what Louis XIV did.
From Fortune’s excellent piece on Snowflake:
I’m guessing this story’s author did not intend to suggest Oracle’s app improvement process involves little screams…but that’s how I read it, because “eek” is what you say when something furry and fast streaks out from under the fridge. Dageville and Cruanes helped Oracle “eke” out incremental improvements.
And from the Brew’s daily newsletter:
Mike Bloomberg is doing well for himself, but he can’t drop $100 billion on a single state—that’s almost twice his net worth. We meant $100 million.
That’s all I have for this month (right under the wire, eh?). Shoot me an email if you have any thoughts on clichés or grammar in general at [email protected].
Via Morning Brew