Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Tired Word

It is unclear how and when a phrase becomes a cliché or words become tired and overused. Certainly, someone sometime sat down and penned or printed them the first time. At that moment, usage was fresh and even insightful. Rather than recite them, I’ll simply post a link to, and you can read it and weep. (Hummm. A cliché, no doubt.) On that site you’ll find your favorites—phrases that over time have crept into your syntax. also offers the cliché of the day.

A cliché is sort of OK in conversation. Sort of. When you’re a journalist, however, you are the editor’s next victim……………..perhaps. Apparently, editors aren’t catching clichés much anymore. It may be an evil outgrowth of the web and Twitter.

What do I mean by “tired words”? My step-mom says some of the offerings in the line at Luby’s cafeteria look “tired”. Get the picture?” They have been there so long under the heat lamp they are no longer savory.

Open the Austin American-Statesman and open your mind and eyes to the language there in. In almost any edition, you’ll find clichés and worn-out words. It’s unclear how that happens.

When I read certain phrases or even words, I read further with fear and trembling. Wait. That’s probably a cliché. I haven’t checked the list.

Broadcast news is even more prone to these problems. It’s unclear whether writers for the ear and the eye are using clichés and tired or overused words to be conversational or just lazy. Writing for the ear and eye indeed should be conversational, but clichés aren’t cool.

“Centered on” became the phrase I wanted to hear the least. Then, it was misused, and people started to write and say “centered around”. No. You cannot center around something. You must center on something if you are centering at all.

So I that won’t be unclear, what the heck, let’s list a few clichés:

“All over the map”

“All talk and no action”

“Bark is bigger than his bite” (Not on the list, but qualifies)

“Barking up the wrong tree” (I’ve see a dog do this. Pretty funny.)

“On the cutting edge” (“Cutting edge” isn’t on the cliché list, but it should be on list of tired words.

“Oh, my God” (Now expressed as OMG!)

“Raining Cats and Dogs” (I always liked “A real frog strangler” better. It’s on the list.

“…rolling stone gathers no moss” (The site says this was first written in the United States. I don’t think so.)

“Tail between his legs”

“Take your life in your own hands”

“No news is good news” (This isn’t on the list, but it could be.)

One could take these clichés and write an entire news story. They were useful. They spoke to us. Some became veritable proverbs. Now, they may be unclear.

You may have guessed by now the motivation for this screed. It is now clear.

The week of April 25, 2010 I picked up the Austin American-Statesman and in different stories on page one, I read the same tired syntax. “Blah, blah, blah is unclear at this time.” Or, “Blah’s motivation is unclear at this time.” (These aren’t the exact sentences.) Then, on the network news broadcasts that same night, something else was “unclear”.

“Unclear” has become the trendy new way of saying “unknown” or words meaning the same thing. Now, it is used so much, it is clear that “unclear” is becoming a tired word. One might question whether it is really a word. Look up “unclear” and you find the definitions for “clear”.

Picky? Perhaps. Read the news, listen to the news, or listen to the news and see if “unclear” is uttered often. If you are news writer, get out the Thesaurus and try saying it another way. Who knows, you may be the author of what will become the next cliché or tired word.

© Jim McNabb, 2010


eflynn said...

Good post, Jim. Sometimes writers and editors get, um, tired and use tired language. We should challenge ourselves to freshen up our words and phrases. Absolutely loved the Luby's image, by the way.

d-rap said...

It's one of my pet peeves, right behind passive/bad writing and using words incorrectly. I partly blame it on laziness. And I increasingly blame it on not truly knowing how to write well, with good, strong sentences that lead to a good, strong story. No one bothers to learn how to properly (broadcast) write anymore...the Do's AND Don'ts. The other big trend is messing with verbs. It's gone from 'Firefighters worked tirelessly thru the night to put out the flames' to now 'Firefighters WORKING tirelessly thru the night to put out the flames'. It all makes me want to run thru flames...

Anonymous said...

"Literally". In my book one of the most misused words in the dictionary. "Then the house literally caught on fire." As opposed to metaphorically it caught on fire? As opposed to it theoretically catching on fire? No. "The house caught fire." Every time I hear that word on the air I cringe.
And by the way, when does food at Luby's not look tired?

Long time KXANer