As someone who reads and writes a lot, I have got attuned to the rhythm of words. When someone uses a cliché, it is as jarring to me as a sudden wrong note in a piece of music.

I personally try to avoid clichés as much as possible and in trying to be alert to them, I started keeping a list of those that I hear that immediately trigger a negative response in me. Here is my list so far:

Speak truth to power
Last time I checked (when used in a sarcastic way)
Think outside the box
When the rubber meets the road
Hit the ground running
A perfect storm
Connect the dots
Light at the end of the tunnel
Start with a clean slate

Anyone else have phrases that grate on the ears (itself a phrase that is on the edge of entering clichedom) that they want to add to this list?


  1. TIm says

    You touched a nerve here, Mano! I couldn’t agree with you more about the discordance of cliche’s. I would also include overused buzzwords in this same ear grating category.

    My #1 most jarring phrase is one you pointed out, “think outside the box” This phrase was worn out at least a decade ago, yet people continue to use it. The use of this phrase is irritatingly ironic to me. As people (often leaders) say, “Let’s think outside of the box,” as a way of communicating, “Let’s be creative here.” It is always stunningly ironic that someone is urging on creativity by using the least creative phrase possible.

    Whew. Okay. I’m off my soapbox.

    Other phrases that jar my ears include:

    Going forward
    Paradigm shift
    boys will be boys
    drinking the Kool-Aid
    stand and deliver
    by the numbers
    it goes without saying
    my two cents

    Always fun to play “buzzword bingo,” though … a concept I learned from a Dilbert cartoon years ago.

  2. says

    The more I think about it…

    Low hanging fruit
    Let’s touch base
    My people will call your people
    Let’s do face time
    Let’s take this offline
    We’re opening a Pandora’s Box

  3. Anonymous says

    They keep on coming…

    Let’s not reinvent the wheel (let’s just make it rounder)
    Put a bug in his ear
    Read my lips
    Who moved my cheese?
    Team player

  4. henry says

    Mano, a fun game to play is ‘Cliche Bingo’ also known as ‘Bullshit.’

    You make a regular bingo card but instead of numbers you use cliches.

    Then when attending a conference or watching something on TV you pass out the Cliche Cards.

    Then whenever someone uses a cliche people mark it on their card. When they get 5 in a row they stand up and yell ‘Bullshit!’

    Its a blast to play.

  5. Eric says

    The worst one, IMO, and I’m guilty of it as well, is “I’m just saying…”

    Which, as far as I can tell, means “If you disagree, I didn’t really mean it.”

  6. says

    Shalom Mano,

    Yes, clichés are often a too-easy crutch for the writer too lazy or too ignorant to dig for the best words.

    When I was a baby magazine journalist working freelance for Cleveland Magazine, then Managing Editor Frank Frank Bentayou took me to task for using the hackneyed phrased Best Kept Secret.

    Years later I still do my best to follow Frank’s advice, but there is also a legitimate use for such clichés as Doh! and others on the above lists. They can be cultural touchstones that, when correctly used, create immediate understanding between writer and reader.

    In reading classical poetry, for instance, we miss the meaning of many words and phrases because we lack the cultural point of reference that the writer and intended readers possessed.

    One of the most interesting instances of this phenomenon that I’ve come across are found in Zen Koan, those seemingly mysterious questions regarding the clapping of a single hand and other odd images. While they baffle the untutored Western mind, they make a very different sense to those from the culture that gave them birth.

    Consider how an America Zen Master in 2121 might pose this koan to a student: Where’s the Beef?

    Lazy writing is filled with the clichéd and hackneyed, but writing that makes proper use of these phrases is not necessarily bad writing.



  7. Peter says

    Best practices

    For what it’s worth

    Pull the trigger

    Throw under the bus

    Xxx wants to be more yyy (I hear this constantly from designers, xxx is an inanimate object)

  8. Scott says

    Others seem to have covered all the cliches I could think of, but what irritates me is when people use nouns as verbs, such as “transition.” “We’re going to transition from this into this.” Another habit I find irritating is the use of the infinitive, as in “He wasn’t liking it.” Instead of “He didn’t like it.” I say we transition away from not liking it.

  9. Peter says

    Scott, I think what you described is a legitimate verb tense. I could be wrong, but I think that’s called the past continuous (which is not the same as the imperfect). “He didn’t like it” is the simple perfect.

    But I’m completely in agreeement with you on the noun as verb garbage.

  10. says

    I really like what you are trying to incorporate with, this clichés are life threatening to me.. hahhaa! What i don’t like about my list is travel time..When somebody tells travel time exactly 12mn or etc. It’s like what if there is danger out there?
    My List:
    Worth the wait
    Best for last
    This I promise you
    I heard it before
    Travel time

    Nice post!

  11. says

    Scott, I think what you described is a legitimate verb tense. I could be wrong, but I think that’s called the past continuous (which is not the same as the imperfect). “He didn’t like it” is the simple perfect.

  12. bigmike says

    are you ok?
    are you fine?
    instead of asking if you want anything else, the server will ask “are you ok?”
    I sometimes reply that I am ok but you are not ok since you asked me if I am ok.

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