Dear Megan is tired. Not, “It’s 4 a.m., why are there naked people playing Canasta in my living room” tired (but I’ve been there); more like, “If I read one more of these tired, clichéd phrases in content or about content, I’m going to volunteer to move to Mars as part of an interstellar colonization experiment” tired. Yeah. It’s serious.
Content creators, don’t use clichés in your writing. Content marketers, don’t talk about your product or service in these terms. They’re trite, hackneyed and boring, and you risk appearing as such to readers (that is, if your editor doesn’t take them out).
At one time, the cliché you’re using was likely a creative and precise way to make the point you’re trying to make, but no more. Overuse has rendered them impotent, and they no longer support or add value to your copy. They detract from it.
Plus — and this is a big one — they make you look lazy. Don’t rely on someone else’s stale, moth-eaten words to describe something; find your own words.
The fine folks at Oxford Dictionaries agree. While I’m not a fan of their comma, their take on clichés is spot on:
They tend to annoy people, especially if they’re overused, and they may even create an impression of laziness or a lack of careful thought. Some people just tune out when they hear a cliché, and so they may miss the point that you’re trying to make.
I understand why they happen. You’re groovin’ along, banging out some grade-A copy, and they slip in — and for the sake of momentum, you let them. The trick is to take them out when you’re reading over your work (you do proofread your work, right?) and replace them with words of your own. Ask yourself what you are really trying to say and then say it with dynamic, decided language.
Take, for example, the phrase “out of left field.” While I love the legend of its origin — that a mental hospital was located directly behind the left field wall of an extinct baseball park in Chicago where the Cubs used to play, and during games the players and fans could hear patients saying all sorts of bizarre things — myriad words exist to convey what you’re trying to say without using this timeworn phrase. You could try: odd, unexpected, nutty, wacky, harebrained, eccentric, peculiar, without warning, surprising, erratic, oddball, goofy, fluky, flaky, offbeat. There, that’s better.
The style gods over at the Associated Press feel the same way. Check out this entry in their “Ask the Editor” feature:
Here’s another one: “Thought leader.” It’s pretentious, isn’t it? Dear Megan thinks thoughts all the time, as do, I’m sure, about 7 billion other people (Donald Trump excepted, of course). Why do your thoughts get to lead? And what does this even mean, anyway? Does it mean you have a certain level of knowledge and expertise in a certain field? Then just say that, because as with most clichés, the reader’s mind snaps shut once he or she stumbles across it. *Yawn*, thought leader, blah blah blah, wake me when this yahoo is done yappin’.
Indulge me in a few more examples:
Content is king. What year is this, 1996? Don’t say this, even in an effort to be sassy or ironic. No one knows the importance of high-quality and relevant content more than Dear Megan — but what are you really trying to say? That the Web is about information, and any site lacking meaningful information is doomed to fail, no matter how fancy you dress it up? Well, say that. Steal it from me, right now.
SEO is dead. You know what’s dead? My dream of ever being a size 5. My trust in the far right. My hope the general population will ever master dangling participles. SEO, on the other hand, has been declared dead every year for a decade. And yet, people in SEO still have jobs.
Guru, ninja, rock star. These ARE dead, for real.
OK, OK, enough with the commentary. Here’s Dear Megan’s list — please, bench these tired phrases from your content. Add your own in the comments below.
- Circle back
- Low-hanging fruit
- Throw it against the wall and see what sticks
- On the same page
- Hit the ground running
- Top of your game
- The long and short of it
- In a nutshell
- At the end of the day
- Make anything “pop”
- Killer anything, as in “killer content”
- Best foot forward
- Stand out from the crowd
- Under the radar
- Spread like wildfire
- In today’s world
- From the dawn of man
- From the beginning of time
- Bang for your buck
- Raised the bar
- Take anything by storm
- When all is said and done
- One-stop shop
- Take whatever to the next level
- The fact of the matter is
- Once in a lifetime
- Tip of the iceberg
- Out of left field
- Thought leader
- Out of the box
- Content is king
- SEO is dead
- Guru, ninja, rock star