TRITE—Overused, worn out, lacking in originality
Just about anything can be trite: art, music, dance, food (think kale salads). But this blog is concerned with language, so that’s what we’ll focus on today. Read through these trite expressions and then vow to avoid them whenever possible. It will always be possible; just think of straightforward alternatives. You can do it.
- No sooner said than done
- By hook or by crook
- Busy as a bee
- A bolt from the blue
- Few and far between
- In this day and age
- Words fail me
- By leaps and bounds
- Better late than never
- A good time was had by all
- Breathed a sigh of relief
- From the ridiculous to the sublime
- It’s a small world
- Life and limb
- Sticks out like a sore thumb
- To all intents and purposes
- In the final analysis
In the final analysis, I hope you can see why it’s better to avoid these expressions.
All words have explicit dictionary meanings—denotations—as well as associated meanings—connotations. Often these connotations are cultural. For example, a color, such as white, may connote purity in one culture and yet be the color of death in another.
It’s important to be certain what connotations words carry. Words you may see as synonyms may have either positive or negative connotations, depending on the context and the culture. For example, the word odor may be seen as positive, negative, or neutral. But if you’re looking for synonyms, check this list and see if some of them might not work for you. When in doubt, look up words in the dictionary to see if a word might have a connotation you weren’t aware of and don’t want. When writing a poem to your love and seeking to focus on how wonderful that person smells, it might be better to stick away from stench and reek.
Mark Forsyth wrote a book called The Elements of Eloquence, which includes this unspoken and largely unwritten rule we all follow but were never taught:
“Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.”
Try moving just one of those adjectives to a different spot and you’ll see and hear how weird the sentence sounds. I find it fascinating that we all pick up the intricacies of our native languages before we even start school, without being taught the grammar. I call it linguistic osmosis.
1. The fattest knight at King Arthur’s round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
3. She was only a whisky maker, but he loved her still.
4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from an algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.
5. No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.
6. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
7. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
8. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
9. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.
10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
11. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
12. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: “You stay here; I’ll go on a head.”
13. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
14. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said, “Keep off the Grass.”
15. The midget fortune teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
16. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
17. A backward poet writes inverse.
18. In a democracy, it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism, it’s your count that votes.
19. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.
20. If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you’d be in Seine.
21. A vulture carrying two dead raccoons boards an airplane. The stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”
22. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says, “Dam!”
23. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly, it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.
24. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, “I’ve lost my electron.” The other says, “Are you sure?” The first replies, “Yes, I’m positive.”
25. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.
26. A person sent ten puns to friends with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.