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Pro Tip 14: Chop Clichés. Junk Jargon.

Clichés and jargon betray effective writing.

Common advice about writing well is to cut all clichés and jargon, those words and phrases that are so familiar that they have lost meaning or are confusing.


My beloved late mother-in-law, Mary Kennedy, was a fount of creative clichés. Some of her favorites:

  • “Right in the middle of haying.” (When something interrupts you when you are doing something else important)

  • “Never put butter on a burn.” (A rejoinder to the old wives’ tale)

  • “People have more dollars than sense.” (Too true)

  • “With the help of God and a couple of cops.” (Huh?)

  • “Who died and made you boss?” (Yeah, what about it?)

A cliché is an expression that was once innovative but has lost its novelty due to overuse. Take the phrase ‘as red as a rose,’ for example: it is a universal descriptor for the color red that is now commonplace and unoriginal.

Other examples of clichés include demarcations of time, such as ‘in the nick of time’ and ‘at the speed of light.’ Clichés also include expressions about emotions, such as ‘head over heels’ to describe love, and the phrase ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ to express hope in difficult situations.

The word ‘cliché’ comes from French. It was first used to describe a stereotype: a metal plate used for printing an image. Both the words ‘cliché’ and ‘stereotype’ derive from printing jargon but now have negative connotations.

These kinds of terms create visual images in your mind, sure, but they feel antiquated. It’s best to rid your writing of such thoughts in favor of more original, less confusing, up-to-date content (Pro Tip 28).

I don’t completely agree that clichés should never be used, however. Sometimes they are handy shorthand for communicating a concept. I employ some in this book. So my advice is to use clichés sparingly. Make sure you “tell it like it is.” Avoid old-fashioned phrases “like the plague.” Get rid of ones that have “worn out their welcome.”


Same thing with jargon: Delete insider terms and acronyms little known to the outside world. In business, the temptation is to think others will get such terms as AI (artificial intelligence), IPO (initial public offering), and ROI (return on investment).

Technical and other types of jargon shut out some readers. Don’t assume—to quote another cliché, that just makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”—that every stakeholder will understand.

Newly minted and would-be crypto millionaires looking for new bets or places to stick their bulging Ethereum wallets are naturally attracted to DAOs, whose exclusivity and premium on early adoption can offer the same kind of social cachet as the scene’s ubiquitous and expensive NFT Twitter avatars, called PFPs. DAOs also offer a kind of next step into the Web 3 scene, for those who discovered it via NFT speculation: a way to further immerse yourself in the ideology, culture, and, especially, the community of the blockchain.

Sheesh. Does that make sense to anyone?

When it comes to clichés and jargon, K.I.S.S. (Pro Tip 11) your reader.


According to Cision, a provider of software for public relations professionals, in its “2021 Global State of the Media Report,” these are what journalists say are the top 10 most abused clichés in press releases:

1. Best of breed

2. World-class

3. Unprecedented

4. Unique

5. Cutting-edge

6. Thrilled

7. Exciting

8. Leading

9. Disruptive/Disruption

10. Award-winning.


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