The Journal featured a book review yesterday for Orin Hargraves’ It’s Been Said Before. I was really excited because the article described a whole book about clichés and, let’s face it, I have no life (OK, I have a life, is it really so bad to be fascinated with words and language)?
The review starts:
I’m inclined to listen to any politician who warns his listeners about the dangers of deficit spending—right up until he talks about “kicking the can down the road.” The use of that deplorable old cliché suggests to me that the speaker isn’t… interested in persuading anybody of anything, since he can’t be bothered to express himself on the issue without relying on a worn-out phrase
It quotes Hargraves’ definition:
All clichés… express common ideas that require frequent expression. But that’s not all it takes to qualify.. What turns an idiom into a cliché is its frequent use in ways that hinder clarity rather than enhancing… Many clichés seem as if they’re making an argument but really aren’t… That’s the trouble with clichés. You can’t help suspecting that the cliché-user… may just be attempting to fill space.
The review cites examples such as “world of difference” and “best kept secret” and “whole point”.
Hargraves blames journalists for propagating clichés, but I think that tech marketers and PR folks can learn a thing or two here as well (“a thing or two” – is that a cliché? Damn, this is hard). In my experience many tend to over rely on and recycle trite words and phrases.
Communicating about complex technology clearly can be a challenge in and of itself. Every character counts, and we simply do not have time or attention to waste space on words that add no meaning.
So I thought it might be helpful to share some examples from the world of tech, via the following list. Which ones am I missing? Please add your suggestions (as a bonus, I am sharing a link to a post I wrote that describes technology that can scan text to detect FOG – fact-deficient obfuscating generalities).