Friday, August 26, 2005

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Resisting the Seduction of Clichés

Public relations writers fall for them. Reporters are lured by them. Communications veterans across the spectrum succumb to the sweet talk of the ever-present, easily accessible cliché. No writing style is immune to these overused phrases, even fiction. The media biz coined a term for these expressions - "groaners." If you're looking for a surefire way to annoy your audience, take the easy way out and slip a series of groaners into your copy. describes a groaner as "a hackneyed, overblown, stuffy or just plain silly cliché that turns up time after time in news scripts. Groaners show laziness on the part of writers, disrespect for the folks watching, and a general contempt for lively English." I agree. When it comes to many of these euphemisms, I believe in taking quick corrective action. Arrest these overused phrases. Blindfold them, give them a cigarette and place them before a firing squad.

When it comes to groaners, seasoned journalist Abe Rosenberg does a great job of identifying some of the worst offenders, often heard in TV news broadcasts. Here is a sampling of groaners from

Area residents - “Shhh, Tommy, don’t play the drums so loud. You’ll wake the area residents!” Normal people don’t refer to their neighbors this way. Why should we?

Famed - “Mommy, mommy, I just saw somebody famed over there!” When did “famous” become a dirty word?

Lay the Groundwork - Doesn’t anybody “prepare” anymore? Too many writers cling to these phrases (“Set The Stage” is another example) when talking about politics, foreign policy, war and peace, etc., as if big phrases made a story important. Important facts make a story important. References to theater and construction belong in stories about theater and construction.

Motorists - Where have all the drivers gone? Don’t fall into the DMV Handbook trap.

Somewhere, some wordsmith is hoping that I'll ease up on folks who like to incorporate clichés into their copy. I'm not completely heartless. As a journalist and PR practitioner, I have fallen into the same trap.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. If you want your copy to "sing," write as if you're holding a conversation with someone. Put your best foot forward. Work like a dog. Leave a lasting impression. In the end, your copy will be the best thing since sliced bread. Just do it.


sandy_cheeks314 said...

mom i am so proud of you, i really like what you've done so far, i love you!

Rose said...

Wow! This is a great writing tip. Alot of people use cliches'. Maybe this will help all of us writers. Thanks a million.

Deb S. said...

Sandy_cheeks314, you like me. You really like me! I guess I'll give you a raise in your allowance for this post. Is a dollar a week OK? Seriously...thanks for making my day.

Deb S. said...

Rose, initially my article included a tongue-in-cheek reference to "there's no place like home." However, I took it out because you know about all the skeletons in my closet. You also know where I live. :-)
Much of my inspiration continues to come from you. Thanks so much.

Rose said...

You got that right! Don't have me looking for you cauase then I'll lose all that marketing support you provide for're the best!

Deb S. said...

Back to you, Rose.

Shirazi said...

Thanks for leading me here. I am getting used to this.

Deb S. said...

Shirazi, I am a great admirer of your work. Your range of knowledge is impressive. Your expertise shines as you report on issues related to public policy, economics, education, and culture. I am learning some tips from you about networking with other bloggers! Feel free to visit and/or post here at any time. Our friends in and around Pakistan are always welcome. Peace.