Posted tagged ‘cliches’

Fighting clichés going forward

October 5, 2010

Further to this blog’s campaign to reduce the use of clichés in conversation and reports, I am grateful to Marlys Harris for her list (and the additional ones mentioned by those who have added comments to her piece). Here are some of those in her list that I detest most:

• Could we go offline to discuss this?
• At the end of the day
• I can’t wrap my head around this
• Bandwidth (when applied to something other than computing)
• Low hanging fruit
• To circle back.
• Take-away (where no food is involved)
• Win win situation.

Do feel free to add your own clichés.

Basically, we have an ongoing situation going forward

February 26, 2010

I was delighted to see a letter to the editor of the Irish Times in today’s paper by my DCU colleague Patrick Kinsella, commenting on the use of the word ‘ongoing’ in that newspaper’s columns. His main point is that the ‘word’ is ugly and, more significantly, usually unnecessary in the context of the sentence in which it is used.

I fear that unnecessary fillers have become a regrettable part of modern language. I have to listen to a lot of speeches and read many reports, and they are full of ‘actually’, ‘basically’, ‘at the end of the day’, ‘if you like’, ‘in the end’ (which it almost never is).

And then we have all those expressions which are just extremely irritating, such as ‘going forward’, or ‘out of the box’. And we have the annoying habit of turning nouns into verbs, such as ‘to impact’, or ‘to deplane’ (which my spell checker accepts, shame on it).

Worst of all, I think there are many people who use all the above words and expressions because they believe that they create elegant prose. Heaven help us!

Solutions, solutions

October 7, 2009

At a meeting today in another university a professor from that university, in describing one of its teaching programmes, called it a ‘learning solution’. At another university I visited recently the restaurant menu was headed ‘catering solutions’.

I have to admit I have a particular dislike of the word ‘solution’ used in this way. It seems to have entered common usage via marketing jargon, where every unnecessary product or service could be labelled a ‘solution’, to make it appear that it offered something useful in addressing real life problems. I really hope that this kind of nonsense doesn’t now become common in universities. We have enough jargon as it is.

Get out of your comfort zone: stop using clichés

July 18, 2009

Some time ago I was participating on an external interview panel when I noticed that one of my fellow interviewers, a senior manager, seemed to use a cliché in every question. He would ask candidates what they did when they were ‘outside their comfort zone’, or whether they were good at ‘thinking outside the box’, or what they would do to ensure a ‘win-win situation’, or how they would manage things ‘going forward’ (one I particularly detest). It became so bad that I simply could no longer listen to the actual content of his questions, I was so mesmerised by the anticipation of each new banality; and I was full of admiration for the candidates, who seemed to be able to rise above the verbal fog.

But the experience marked me, because now I wince whenever I hear any of these awful phrases. Or ones like ‘dumbing down’, ‘moving the goalposts’,  being ‘on the same page’, wanting a ‘level playing field’.

But what is so bad about these expressions? I also must say lots of things that really irritate others, so who am I to complain? I suppose there are two points to be made. First, any kind of expression that gets to be repeated endlessly is going to sound bad very quickly. But the second objection is more important, and its implications more interesting. Most of these clichés use metaphors, which is fine when the speaker has a sense of what they are doing with them, but bad when the imagery of the expression is being used accidentally and without any real linguistic appreciation.

Really, I should apologise, for this must all sound very patronising, and many people who use clichés are highly respected individuals. But nevertheless, we are caught up in a process of mangling our language, and we should stop trying to be clever with it and start putting things in a way that make sense and express something real. And we should stop repeating ad nauseam expressions we heard from someone or other which we think sound cool; in fact, we should all stop singing from the same hymnsheet. It’s annoying.

Re-baselining jargon

April 21, 2009

Actually, I don’t know what the above title of this post means. I have googled ‘re-baselining’ and found several examples of its use, but no indication of its meaning; I cannot even tell the meaning from sentences in which it appears. But I know it’s a word, in at least someone’s opinion, because the spellchecker on my computer accepts it.

But whatever it means, it has been banned by the UK’s Local Government Association, as it is included in a list of jargon not to be used by British local authorities. Some of the words and phrases are banned because they are clichés: these include ‘thinking outside the box’, ‘horizon scanning’ and ‘value added’ (though not, to my dismay, the terrible ‘going forward’ which has become such a verbal tick with many people). Others are banned because they are impenetrable, such as ‘predictors of beaconicity’ and ‘coterminous stakeholder engagement’. And ‘re-baselining’.

At the same time British police have also been instructed to stop using what is being called ‘ploddledygook’ (with reference to Enid Blyton’s policeman ‘Mr Plod’), and to avoid phrases in reports such as ‘exited the vehicle’ when they meant ‘got out of the car’.

Universities are also notoriously fond of jargon, and like most jargon users often don’t realise they are even doing it. We often bombard school leavers with marketing talk that includes ‘modular’, ‘continuous assessment’, ‘dissertation’, ‘learning outcomes’ and the like – not to mention a whole mountain of incomprehensible acronyms like APEL (‘accreditation of prior learning’, if you must know – and don’t ask me why the ‘E’ is there…). And when you get on to a university committee, if you’re not familiar with the jargon you might as well switch off, because none of it will make any sense whatsoever. But if you wish, you can consult this very helpful glossary of such stuff offered by the University of Sussex.

Speaking in impenetrable phrases is not a sign of sophistication or advanced excellence, it is a sign of intellectual laziness and of a failure to understand that we must be accessible as well intelligent. I think I’ll start right here and draw up a list of words and phrases I’ll stop using. Suggestions for entries are welcome.

Oh, and if you know what ‘re-baselining’ means do let me know, and I’ll have learnt something.


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