In one skit, John Cleese and company took the tired old cliché of the superhero and turned him into: “Daht-dah-dah-dah… Bicycle Repair Man!” .
Clichés have a way of creeping into our writing when we blog, too. They seem harmless enough.
Hey, everyone uses them, right?
Yes. And there’s a reason for that. They are easy to picture. Familiar. And immediately understandable.
How they got to be clichés
At one time, these words were fresh— memorable even.
When the cave man first heard his pal say, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” I can imagine how his eyes widened as he pondered the idea, picturing the bird, the hand, the bush.
But somewhere along the line, we’ve heard them too many times. The words are now fluffy, full of air, balloons we deflate only to find nothing inside.
Using clichés in our blogging makes us look lazy—and our ideas ordinary.
Many times the cliché is the first word that comes to mind. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. And it’s also the word a bazillion other people on the planet use.
To find your unique blogger’s voice, stay away from them.
My list of top loser clichés
Okay. Here is my list. Now some people would quibble with me and say that these aren’t clichés, they’re just popular slang.
Well, yes, they are slang. But because they are overused, they have lost their originality. They have crossed the line into Clichéville:
1. Lazy adjective clichés.
In alphabetical order:
• amazing (I’m guilty of this one from time to time—me and talk show hosts and a million other people.)
• awesome (Does this still mean inspiring in a mouth-dropping kind of way? If it does, do we really want to describe a piece of pizza that way?)
• cool (Nothing could have less meaning except, perhaps, “very cool.”)
• great (I thought Lincoln was a great president, but now people talk about great blog posts, so I’m not sure.)
• killer (Everything is “killer” these days. In a Google search, I found 325 million entries for this word, from “killer titles tags” and “killer nonprofit WordPress sites” to “killer sushi”).
• sweet (another word for “nice.” Particularly irritating when used with “ass.”)
2. Stupid, meaningless noun clichés.
At the top of my list: rock star.
Enough with the rock star already.
If I hear one more writer compare a person or thing to a rock star, I’m going to puke. No, really, I am.
Blog like a rock star.
Network like a rock star.
Use Quick Books like a rock star. (Okay, I made that one up.)
Even the top bloggers, who I will be nice enough to not name here, are guilty. Here are two recent post titles:
“How to Be a Rock Star in Your Niche.”
“Rockstar Plugins You May Not Know About” (Now even WordPress plugins can be rock stars!)
Rock star meant something once.
Charismatic, passionate, attractive. (On second thought, looking at Arrowsmith’s Steven Tyler, maybe not so much that last one.)
This word holds no meaning anymore. The visual imagery is gone.
Because if everyone can be a rock star, it isn’t that special anymore.
3. Anemic verb clichés.
My all-time favorite loser verb? Suck.
A Google search shows blog post titles like:
“How to Succeed at Content Marketing Even if Your Content Skills Suck”
“How to Write a Good Ebook—You Know, the Kind That Doesn’t Suck”
“6 Words that Make Your Résumé Suck”
And my personal favorite:
Do I follow my own advice? I try. But sometimes a cliché will slip out of me.
Just to show you that I’m not perfect, I will tell you that I used this tired, overworked verb in a recent post, 7 Ways to Use Your Blog as a Lab, Even if You Sucked at Science.
I’m recovering, but I’m not cured yet.
4. The multiple one-word sentence cliché.
You know what I’m talking about. As in: This. Is. So. Awesome.
In fact, in 2006, this one was on Copyblogger’s list of “Blogging Clichés That Need to Die.” Why are we still using it, 5 years later?
5. And, on my cliché watch list.
• kick-ass (It’s inching closer to cliché all the time)
• bad ass (people can be bad ass and evidently things without actual asses can, too, as in badass coffee and badass cars).
Let clichés pour out of you in what the writer Anne Lamott calls your “shitty first draft.” You know, the blog post draft you need to write to get to the better one?
But then go back and pull all those weeds out of the garden. I can guarantee that there’s a better word or phrase to replace them with.
Is it ever okay to use a cliché?
Sometimes a cliché says what you want to say perfectly. I use this 3-part test:
• Does it appeal to one of the senses (can the reader picture it, hear it, smell it or touch it?)
• Does it evoke an emotion?
• Does it make my voice unique or do I just sound like everyone else?
If it works, I use it. If not, it’s gone.
What about you?
Are clichés in blog posts bothersome to you or not so much so?
Do you have a word or phrase that drives you crazy?
If you could erase one word from the collective memory of humankind, what would it be?