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Avoid clichés like the plague

Now that reality television has taken over our screens, it is impossible to spend a few minutes relaxing in front of the box without hearing the phrases; “Life-changing amounts of money”, or “It was an emotional rollercoaster “.

But the business world is just as guilty of mangling the English language into a lowest common denominator of meaningless expression or obfuscation.

In the 1946 essay, Politics and the English essay, his literary ‘style-guide’, that well-known pedant, George Orwell, wrote a list of phrases he thought should be banned, including what he termed dying metaphors, such as, “ring the changes on”, “toe the line”, “play into the hands of””, “Achilles’ heel”, “swan song” and “hotbed”.

He disliked verbal false limbs, like,”render inoperative”, “militate against”, “give rise to”, “exhibit a tendency to”. “make contact with”, or “give grounds for”. He railed against pretentious diction; words such as, “phenomenon, element, individual (as a noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilise, eliminate, and liquidate”.

Orwell’s list of unacceptable, meaningless words included, “class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois and equality”. Linguistically, things haven’t improved since Orwell’s time; he wouldn’t last long in today’s office; a typical management meeting or presentation would have driven him mad.

John Rentoul, of the Independent newspaper, recently published 100 words and phrases he feels should be banned, many of which probably crop up in your office. They include:

• What part of x don’t you understand?

• Way beyond or way more

• Any time soon

• Learning curve

• Raising awareness

• Inclusive

• Community, especially a vibrant one

• Celebrity

• Hearts and minds

• Makeover

• Lifestyle

• Going forward

• A forward policy

• A big ask

• At this moment in time

• Not fit for purpose

• Black hole (in a financial context)

• The elephant in the room

• Perfect storm

• Seal the deal

• Game-changer

• Progressive

• Iconic

• Action (as a verb)

• Parameter

• A raft of

• Leverage (as a vereb)

• U-turn (as a verb)

• Let’s be clear

• At the end of the day

• Organic, when unrelated to farming or science

• A no-brainer

• What’s not to like

• Fairly unique

• Paradigm shift

• Step change

• Sea change

• Wake up and smell the coffee

• Ongoing

• Project

• Agenda, except to describe a list for a meeting

• Thinking out of the box (to which I would add blue sky-thinking)

• Radar, especially when under or on one

• Does what it says on the tin

• Stakeholder

• Deliverables

• Key, especially keynote speech

• Enough already

• See what I did there

• Rolling out, apart from carpets, wallpaper or logs

• Forward planning

It might seem pretty curmudgeonly to make of list of words you don’t like, but I agree with all the above and more. The main culprits are TV presenters and reality TV participants, but most professions use lazy shorthand, which normally demonstrates lazy thinking. Advertising and marketing are particularly adept at turning a pretentious phrase, but at the end of the day, even journalists need to wake up and smell the coffee. See what I did there?

Please join in the Orwellian debate and email any of your pet hates to us at our LinkedIn discussion group .

Nigel Phillips

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