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On the Use of Cliches

This Gawker post on blog cliches hits very close to home. It's an "annotated list of words, phrases, and terms that have long overstayed their welcome in the media-blogosphere." I'd have to agree. I'm guilty of a few of these, too.

  • Best. [ultimate thing or experience.] Ever/Evar.
  • [undesirable counter-example], not so much.
  • FTW, O RLY, lol, FTL, OMG, FWIW, btw, PWND, ROTFL, etc.
  • [negative experience, situation, or description]; I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.
  • [purposefully non-ghetto statement], yo.
  • [undesirable conclusion]. Oy.
  • [amazed paraphrase of opposing position]. Seriously? Seriously?
  • What's next? [outlandish scenario]?
  • I'm looking at you, [example of complaint].
  • Um, [condescension]?
  • [Argument], wait for it, [rhetorical flourish].
  • [Undesirable experience] made my [sensory organ] bleed.
  • [adjective]-y goodness
  • [any word]-gasm
  • [x] is the new [y].

There are a bunch of good suggestions in the comments as well:

  • Let me see if I have this straight. [outlandish scenario].
  • No, really.
  • I heart [object, person, place, or thing].
  • [statement]. Meh.
  • Mr. [Blank]y Mc[Blank]erson
  • I want those (x) [minutes, hours, days] of my life back.

Some of these catchphrases are fun – in moderation. But you have to be aware that you're using a common catchphrase, and you should use it selectively and judiciously. Most people don't realize how often they're using a catchphrase, which is why they become overused and cliche in the first place. Using a catchphrase is like ending a sentence with an exclamation point: rarely necessary, but when it is, time it for maximum impact.

If you're worried you might be inadvertently relying on cliches in your writing, try cutting and pasting some of your prose into the online clich finder. It's based on the Associated Press Guide to News Writing.

I try to avoid cliches in my speaking and writing by intentionally mixing things up. I refrain from using the same words, the same phrases, the same stuff too often. There are a million ways to communicate any idea. Why limit yourself to narrow, predefined patterns of thinking, writing, and speaking? Stretch a little. Explain it a different way this time. Rephrase. Restate. Riff on the topic.

Using cliches is fine; just be sure you aren't using them as a substitute for real communication.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: http://twitter.com/codinghorror