Tuesday, June 14, 2011

BTW: Avoid Clichés Like the Plague

"The war on clichés - raising awareness for bloggers"
The hermeneutic of continuity (June 14, 2011)

"(The 'raising awareness' bit was a joke.) John Rentoul has a good list of clichés that are best avoided ('banned' in his article.) I admit to having used one or two of them and will try to do better. Sometimes these phrases might be used in jest such as 'a raft of measures' which I think is a funny way to describe a list of things that people are intending to do to pretend that they are solving a problem.

"Is it better to read blogs or books? This is a futile discussion since people can read and write both. Many bloggers become better writers simply because they write so much: I am sure that my own writing has improved over the past few years. Bloggers are also instantly punished in their comment boxes for mistakes in spelling and grammar (there are not so many pedants in punctuation.)

"If you write regularly, it is worth taking the time occasionally to consult some guides to good, clear English."

The post's author says that a set of writing rules made by George Orwell is "still valuable:" and the Lemming's inclined to agree. Pretty much. Here's that Orwell list:
  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Are these rules set in stone? For starters, that's a cliché. For the most part, that's a good, common-sense set of rules for coherent writing. The 'never use passive' point, for example.

On the other hand, "never" isn't a term the Lemming likes using where written communication is concerned.

Here's a short selection from the list of 100 clichés that Mr. Rentoul assembled, with the Lemming's opinion. The Independent is a United Kingdom publication, so this list almost certainly applies to British English, but it's probably useful on the west side of the Atlantic, too.
  • 1. It's the economy, stupid.
    • That's still in use??
  • 7. Learning curve.
    • Also "paradigm"
      • See #72
  • 9. Celebrating diversity.
    • When humorists make cracks, it's time to quit:
      • 'De more you have, di verse it gets'
  • 23. Apologies for lack of postings.
    • Unless the explanation is useful or funny
  • 31. IMO, IMHO, LOL, ROFL and so on. I mean, whose opinion is it going to be? Genuinely witty abbreviations, however, are permitted, for example, QTWTAIN, YYSSW, IICRS (Questions to Which the Answer is No; Yeah, Yeah, Sure, Sure, Whatever; Iraq Inquiry Coverage Rebuttal Service).
    • The Lemming uses "in the Lemming's opinion" quite a bit
      • For clarity
      • To distinguish from facts or opinions of others
  • 55. Exponential or exponentially used to mean big or a lot.
    • Unless the progression really is exponential
      • It's a very specific term
  • 71. Fairly unique.
    • Something is unique - or not-unique
      • Might be okay in a literary use
        • Sort of like "he's fairly dead"
  • 72. Paradigm shift. Or anything to do with a paradigm.
    • Somebody's still using "paradigm?!!"
  • 76. Real people and the real world. In real time.
    • Unless the author actually means "in real time"
      • It's a rather technical term, though
  • 100. The suffix -gate added to any news theme supposedly embarrassing to a government.
    • Anything else hinting that the writer thinks it's still 1974
    (John Rentoul, Eagle Eye, The Independent (UK))
The other 9/10 of the list is, in the Lemming's opinion (!) worth reading. And thinking about.

On the other hand (arguably (!) another cliché), if something in that list is positively the best word or phrase to express an idea? The Lemming thinks it's probably okay.

Not-completely-unrelated posts:
A tip of the hat to @FatherTF, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.


Brigid said...

Sort of like "he's fairly dead"

"He's mostly dead, which means he's partially alive." Remember Miracle Max? That was great.

Brian Gill said...



Indeed: I think avoiding cliches - when used as a sort of crutch or mask - is a good idea. On the other hand, some writing benefits from hackneyed statements. Wodehouse's Bertie and Jeeves stories, for example. Or the doctor in The Wrong Box - "I was not always as you see me now - - - she was dead when I arrived."

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