Common Clichés (And How to Avoid Them)
Part of your job as a proofreader or editor is to help your client avoid clichés in their writing. This will involve highlighting overused terms and phrases and suggesting less clichéd alternatives. But to do this, you’ll first need to know what clichéd language is and how to spot it.
This is where our guide to common clichés comes in! We cover:
- What clichéd language is.
- Some examples of common clichés.
- How to edit clichéd language.
Read on to learn how to identify and fix your client’s clichés.
What Is Clichéd Language?
Sometimes a phrase or expression is used so often that it loses all meaning. We call such phrases clichés.
Clichéd language isn’t limited to a particular form or style. Some clichés may have started out as interesting metaphors or idioms but have since become commonplace, such as “clear as day” or “the grass is greener on the other side.”
Other clichés are simply phrases that have become popular. Marketing and sales writing, for example, is full of clichéd language like “the customer is always right” or “going above and beyond.”
Whatever form they take, though, clichés can have several negative impacts on a piece of writing. These include:
- Making writing seem lazy or unoriginal
- Detracting from or reducing the impact of the point the author is trying to make
- Giving vague and imprecise information
- Posing a barrier to readers from different backgrounds, as many clichés are culturally specific
What’s more, clichés can become so well-worn that most readers will completely overlook them. As we’ll see below, this can also be a problem for editors.
Common Clichés to Look Out For
Many proofreaders and editors are so familiar with certain clichés that they are actually easy to miss.
To help you spot clichéd language in your client’s writing, then, we’ve compiled this brief list of common clichés you may encounter while editing:
- There are plenty more fish in the sea
- Think outside the box
- Grab the bull by the horns
- It goes without saying
- At the end of the day
- I’ve got my plate full
- Every cloud has a silver lining
- There’s no “I” in team
- Since the dawn of time
- In this day and age
- Don’t judge a book by its cover
- In a nutshell
- Lost track of time
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of the type of language to look out for.
Now that you’ve got your eyes peeled for clichés, you need to know what to do when you find them.
Here are three questions to ask if you spot clichéd language in your client’s writing:
Does it serve a purpose? Not all clichés are errors that need fixing. Some can work as useful phrases that help move the argument or narrative forward, summarize an idea concisely, or connect with a certain audience.
Back in our day, we didn’t have to worry about internet safety. ✔
Can it be reworded? Sometimes, your client may have used a cliché where a more original turn of phrase would work better. You can suggest an alternative or just highlight the issue so that your client can rewrite the phrase themselves.
Since the dawn of time, dinosaurs have captivated our imaginations. ✘
From the moment our ancestors first discovered those huge, mysterious fossils, dinosaurs have captivated our imaginations. ✔
Does it need to be there at all? If a cliché acts as hedging or as a filler, or doesn’t add any substance, the fix is an easy one: just remove it! This approach is especially useful if your client needs to reduce their word count.
Going forward, we will adapt our product to better meet our customers’ needs. ✘
We will adapt our product to better meet our customers’ needs. ✔
Ultimately, you will need to use your own judgment for whether or not a cliché needs fixing. But being aware of clichéd language will help you make those decisions when editing.
Becoming a Proofreader or Editor
From clichéd language to grammar mistakes and everything in between, our Becoming A Proofreader and Becoming An Editor courses will train you to spot and fix errors in your client’s writing.