|Ever read a passage like the one below? |
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, if you want to climb the ladder of success and find fame and fortune, with all other things being equal, it is a fact of life that you must work long and hard, and keep your fingers crossed that you don't land in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you follow this tried and true rule of thumb, you will sooner or later enter the land flowing with milk and honey and be allowed to bask in the limelight of your success.
Surely, that's the most boring piece of writing you've ever read. If it's not, you need to change your reading habits. Why is this passage so bland and meaningless? It's full of clichés!
Clichés, or trite expressions, are phrases that we have heard repeated so often and read so many times that they have become meaningless. We don't really "hear" them when we encounter them in our reading.
Obviously, words serve a purpose. They communicate. They create a mental image of our thoughts. They verbalize what we want someone else to visualize. Clichés destroy that vision.
Clichés, when originally penned, were often crisp, clear, unique thoughts. They said something many people felt in a way that most people had never considered. That's why they became clichés. They were so well received because they stated clearly what we wanted to express. So, everyone used them. Sort of like slang. What is considered slang today, can easily become a cliché tomorrow.
Remember, "Where's the Beef?" The world went crazy over that phrase. But now? It sounds dated and trite. What about "Just Say No." When (was it Nancy Reagan?) coined that phrase, it was fresh and original. Kids hadn't been told until then that refraining from drugs was so simple. Everyone thought, "Why didn't I think of that?" Today, it's overused and has lost its impact.
What about "Content is king," or "Been there, done that," or "Got...?" There are many other examples like these, but I think you understand.
Clichés weaken your writing. They give the impression that you haven't clearly thought about what you're trying to say. If you want to communicate a fresh idea, you must use fresh language. If you want your writing to come alive, you must use language that is alive. Clichés are dead.
No one expects you to be completely original with every sentence, or to amaze your readers with your creative abilities, but you need to help your readers visualize what you're saying and feel what you want them to feel. This is done through fresh language that says what you mean. Clichés don't say anything, because they're often not even "heard" with the reading ear.
So, how do you eliminate clichés from your writing?
1. Learn about them. Learn to recognize clichés when you see them. Find a good reference book. (The Thesaurus of Alternatives to Worn-Out Words and Phrases by Robert Hartwell Fiske is a good one. It's out of print, but Amazon might be able to locate one for you.)
2. Once you recognize them, look for them. Be aware that we often speak in clichés, and since much of our writing, especially online, is in a conversational tone, it's easy to transfer those worn-out phrases to pen or keyboard. Make a focused effort to eliminate them from your writing.
3. When you find clichés in your writing, reword them. Use your own language, your own choice of words to say the same thing. Often, even a simple change can make a much more powerful, forceful statement.
When it's all said and done, there's no getting away from the fact that clichés and trite expressions should fall by the writing wayside at all costs.
Copyright © 1999-2000 Darlene Bishop. All rights reserved
worldwide. Email author for reprint permission.
About The Author
Darlene Bishop is a professional with over 16 years experience writing and editing ezines and newsletters, press releases, website content, sales letters, ads and much more, and is the author of numerous articles on a variety of topics.
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