Stamp out clichés: Tossing out my two cents

Professional communicators should avoid them like the plague, but when push comes to shove, sometimes you just have to hold your nose and take the plunge.

When you say “we need to think outside the box,” you’re using a cliché which…well…is actually inside the box.

According to, a cliché is a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.”

Clichés, sadly, are everywhere, but they’re especially rampant in the business world. Are you guilty of using any of the following?

  • Leverage your X
  • We do not have the bandwidth to X
  • We need to step up to the plate
  • A leading provider of X

Even worse: clichés that bear no universal definition.

For example, have you ever heard synergy, paradigm shift or core competency, and had no idea what the person was talking about?

Or you thought you knew what they meant, but your understandings differed completely?

As a writer, it is my job to avoid using clichés. Of course, if a client is a strong proponent of such sayings, I will argue only so much.

But it is my responsibility—my duty, if you will—to try to convince them otherwise.

In my opinion, clichés:

  • indicate a degree of laziness;
  • do not add value to what you are trying to say; and
  • waste space.

A professional writer can help a company create new ways to deliver messages—and take it to the next level.*

It’s a win-win* for the company, and its target audience.

* All clichés in this article were used deliberately, including those in the headline and teaser

What clichés annoy you? Have you ever taken a cliché and reworked it into something original?

Lindsey McCaffrey is an Ottawa-based communications/public relations consultant, writer and editor. With more than a decade of experience, Lindsey is the recipient of a Gold Quill award from the International Association of Business Communicators. To reach her, contact 613.290.0239 or This article first appeared on in January 2011.

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