Monthly Archives: May 2013

More clichés

Thanks to you, my helpful readers, I have another list of clichés for your consideration. (Please consider abandoning use of these beauties.)

With that said

It is what it is

Pull the trigger

Sense of urgency

Walk it back

Walk it through

Turn the corner

Let’s all turn the corner and pull the trigger on this jargon. Use clear, straightforward language to make your points. Your readers will thank you.


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Clichés were fresh the first few times they were used—but because they were new and interesting they caught on like a house afire and became overused and trite.


Cute as a button, cool as a cucumber, shiny as a new penny, hungry as a horse, fat as a pig—those are all old hat, very old hat.


The business world is riddled with clichés. Here is a list of ones to avoid; I’m sure you can think of dozens more. Send your candidates to me, and I’ll run them up the flagpole and see if they fly.




Needless to say


First and foremost


Last but not least


Few and far between


Get the ball rolling


The bottom line


At the end of the day


Fall on deaf ears


Fly in the face of


The lion’s share


By the same token




Don’t rock the boat


Sweep under the rug


The powers that be


When the dust settles


In the nick of time


That insults the intelligence


World class


State of the art


Cutting edge


Hit it out of the park


Back in the day





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Anxious vs. Eager

It’s not uncommon for people to write something like this:

“I’m anxious to know how your important new job is going.”

In fact, “anxious” means experiencing worry or unease about a situation that might be negative.  It is possible that the person’s new job might not be working out so well, but chances are the speaker/writer meant “eager,” meaning to show keen interest.

English: An anxious person

English: An anxious person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Who You Callin’ “Gentleman”?

English: Cover of The Country Gentleman magazi...

English: Cover of The Country Gentleman magazine, April 20, 1918 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Gentleman” is not a synonym for just any man or male. It specifically refers to a noble or at least an honorable man, not just any human with XY chromosomes. And yet a day rarely passes that I don’t hear this word misused:

“The driver was clocked at 80 mph in the residential neighborhood and finally came to a stop when he crashed into a brick wall. The gentleman exited the vehicle and was placed under arrest.”

“The gentleman exited the vehicle.”  (How about “The driver/man got out of the car”?)  Chances are someone who endangers people by driving recklessly is no gentleman.

Similarly, “lady” is also misused in a parallel way, although not as frequently.  There is a difference between “lady,” “woman” and “female.”  Words have connotations that directly affect your writing.

As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”  Aim for lightning.

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Sentence and Paragraph Length

To hold your readers’ attention, you want variety in the length of your sentences: some short, some medium, and even the occasional long one. But the more complicated your content is, the shorter your sentences should be.  Instead of one long sentence explaining a difficult point, break it down into two or even more sentences.

Big blocks of gray print put people off. Look at a newspaper (quick, while they still exist) and notice how short each paragraph is. If several of those were combined, readers would likely give up before starting to read the articles, merely because of the way the print looks on the page. White space invites your readers in; those big gray chunks of print turn them off.

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Words to Eliminate

“The dealership is holding a sales event over Memorial Day weekend.”

“Yesterday’s rain event in Oklahoma caused widespread flooding. However, tomorrow should bring only minimal shower activity.”

“The defense attorney cited acts of an inflammatory nature.”

“The drought condition has many farmers concerned.”

“The police responded to an emergency situation at the rest stop.”

Events, situations, conditions, and activities are almost always fillers used to make something sound more impressive (but not very effectively). Whenever you use one of those words, see if you can’t reword your sentence more concisely:

That dealership is holding a sale. The report was about yesterday’s rain in Oklahoma. The prospect for tomorrow is merely showers. Those farmers are worried about the drought, and the police officers responded to an emergency.

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Repetitive Redundancies

I  hope and trust you realize and understand the subject line above is a kidding joke.  So many phrases we hear and read daily are redundant, but we rarely have the awareness to eliminate them; we have gotten used to them.  Are any of these your favorites?


The end result


A contributing factor


Face up to the problem


Suffocated to death


Modest about himself


Own her own home


Revert back


Shrug her shoulders, nod her head


New developments


Proceed onward


Jewish rabbi


Future plans


Easter Sunday


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Massaging and Harmonizing

A friend in the business world who shares my distain of overstuffed language sent me this beauty today. Someone in his company actually wrote, “…please let me know if you find errors as you massage the data as I will be happy to harmonize that with [Jason].”

I am always impressed by the creativity evidenced in business communications, even though the writers of these goodies don’t seem particularly creative in the rest of their lives.  Do they speak like this when they leave the office?

May you find harmony in your day—and perhaps sneak in a massage while you’re at it.


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Immigrate, Emigrate, Migrate

Immigrate means to come to a country:  Ricardo immigrated to the United States.

Emigrate means to leave a country:  Ricardo emigrated from Nicaragua.

Migrate means to change location:  Some species of birds migrate thousands of miles every winter.


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How Delightful!

On May 10 the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page article about the most pervasive buzzword in the corporate world these days: “delight” and other forms of this word.

The article quoted Steve Jobs as the apparent originator of this word in a business context:

We love our users, we love them. We try to surprise and delight them…and we work our asses off.

I remember the first time I came across this word while I was leading business writing seminars—it was at least 10 years ago.  I won’t embarrass the company because many employees there still get my tips. But this corporation was energetically promoting the idea of “customer delight” in its correspondence with people and other companies it dealt with.

Did I spew my coffee when I first saw this phrase?  Indeed I did. To me it sounded like a specialty concocted by Baskin-Robbins:

Try our “Customer Delight!” Luscious scoops of any FIVE flavors of ice cream of your choosing! Swimming in your favorite sauce! Topped with a mountain of snowy whipped cream! Surmounted by generous sprinklings of nuts! And capped with a glistening red cherry!  It’s our “Customer Delight” and we guarantee you will be DELIGHTED!

To me the word sounds forced, contrived and insincere. Yes, we all want our customers to be happy, satisfied, gratified, and pleased. Doesn’t one of those words do the trick?

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It’s Just Personal

Many redundancies crop up around “personal” or “personally”:

I personally think that….”   There’s a double.

These two are triples:

I myself personally think that…”

“It’s my own personal opinion that…”

Einstein said, “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler.”  (Aren’t you glad he didn’t make the theory of relativity more complicated?)

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein (Photo credit: afagen)

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May 10, 2013 · 5:07 PM

Mother’s Day Gift Suggestion

cover for ebook

Where can you get a Mother’s Day gift for under $3, one she will giggle over and love? Back in my Shameless Promotion Mode, I’m offering my e-book—Your Kid Said This!— as a nifty suggestion, a kind of “stocking stuffer” for all the great mothers you know.

Who is more honest than children? This book contains about 300 entertaining quotes from young children on topics as varied as Sex, School, Brothers and Sisters, Grownups, Love, Language, Potty Time, Food, Manners and Clothing. It also has charming illustrations, done by children, for each section.

You can read a free sample on Amazon. It’s also available on iBooks and many other e-book formats.  If you don’t have an iPad or a Kindle, you can download it and read it directly on your computer screen.  You can also send it as a gift to all those great moms you know, either to their reading devices or to their computers.

I’ve gotten wonderful feedback on the book and hope you enjoy it.  Thanks for your support!

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May 9, 2013 · 10:18 AM

The Prefix “Be-“

I’ve been thinking. We use the prefix “be-” to suggest something is being added:

Think of “befriend,” “bespatter,” “befoul,” and “befog.”

Why, then, do we say “beheaded”?  Shouldn’t it be “deheaded”?

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In yesterday’s post I mentioned PINs associated with vehicles.  Someone more sharp-eyed than I am called to my attention the fact that cars have VINS, and ATMs have PINs.  But then this person suggested that perhaps car companies might, in fact, have PINs because the Supreme Court decreed that “corporations are people.”  I do not agree with the Supremes in this case!

What I learned from yesterday’s mistake is that although I do proofread everything I write more than once, obviously I am reading looking for typos but don’t focus on possible errors in content. I will change my errant ways.

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Making Acronyms Plural

As I’ve mentioned before, an acronym is not a synonym for an abbreviation.  All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms.

NASA is an acronym—because we pronounce it as a word.

PIN is also an acronym. (Don’t say “PIN number.” That’s redundant.)

USA is not an acronym because we don’t pronounce it as a word; we say each letter.

To make acronyms plural, just add a lowercase s:  All vehicles have PINs. You don’t need an apostrophe before that s. We do write about the Oakland A’s, only because it would look like the word “As” if we didn’t.

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Flaunt or Flout?

These two words are often used interchangeably, but they have very different meanings.

FLAUNT means to show off ostentatiously:  Arnold flaunted his hideously overdeveloped muscles attained from countless hours in his home gym.

FLOUT means to disregard authority:  Melvin flouted the law against using a handheld cellphone, even after receiving four tickets for his infraction.

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Who (or Whom) Let the Dogs Out?

Just as many people think “I” is a classier pronoun than “me,” they also think “whom” is more la-de-dah or professional than “who.”  False in both cases; it just depends on whether you need a subject pronoun or an object pronoun.

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

1. Who/Whom let the dogs out?  If you can substitute any of these subject pronouns—he, she, we or they—use who.  We let the dogs out. She let the dogs out.  You need who in this sentence.

2. Ask not for who/whom the bell tolls.  That bell tolls for her/him/us/them. When an object pronoun works, use whom.

Easy, right?

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