Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Avoid the Empty Phrase Trap

As writers we are told to avoid clichés, to come up with a new and better way to describe and characterize.

Here are some of my pet peeves:
• Irregardless. It’s just plain regardless.
• We’ll meet at 9 a.m. in the morning. As opposed to 9 a.m. in the evening?
• The good doctor. Maybe he’s a bad doctor.
• Very unique. Unique is a word unto itself. It doesn’t need any qualifiers. What is fairly unique? What's next: Uniquely unique?
• At this point in time. Where else would it be?
• At the end of the day. Probably a good phrase the first 5 times it was used, but now…sick of it!
• Think outside the box. Again a good one the first 10 times, but…
• I personally believe. As opposed to I impersonally believe?
• It is what it is. Huh?
• To be honest. That makes me think you might NOT be!

BBC's Magazine has posted a funny list of its readers' most hated cliché phrases.

To be honest and fair, going forward, this is basically something that, at the end of the day, we're likely to touch base about again.

Let's face it, the fact of the matter is that literally all of us succumb to the use of these stock phrases — even when bringing our A game and giving 110%.

What are your most hated clichés — and how do you avoid them?


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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  1. The phrase I hate is 'personal friends' - it's only ever used by pretentious, name-droppy people, as in 'I'm personal friends with Justin Timberlake' - how would you be impersonal friends?

  2. ha ha I'm going to have to watch myself - I've used some of those!! :)

    Judy (South Africa)

  3. I'd put "the fact of the matter" on my list. Would we be talking about the fact of something else.

  4. Can we please hold a memorial service for "rule of thumb"? That's the one I don't EVER want to hear/read again.

  5. The overuse of "actually" is driving me crazy.

  6. Okay I know it isn't a redundant phrase, but it bugs me because it's just plain silly..."across the pond"...it's not a pond! It's an ocean! Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggg!

  7. Irregardless of what bothers y'all, I have a few of my own. Just sayin'... for example. Actually... this would make a great writing prompt!

  8. How about 'pushing the envelope'?

    Most of my pet hates are business-speak so it's not too hard to avoid them when I'm writing fiction. Great to throw in if I'm writing about an annoying manager, mind you. ;)

  9. Any word or expression that's overused bothers me because it's a bump in the reading road. One author I used to read loved the word "segue." How do I know? She used it a number of times in one book. Now "segue" is an unusual word to read over and over in a novel, so I became acutely aware of its presence every time it cropped up. To me, this type of thing more annoying that the occasional appearance of a tired cliché.

  10. I have a beta who is very good at picking those things out for me. :D

  11. I join you in your loathing of 'very unique'. I can't stand it. It's amazing how many times I hear it in commercials.

  12. One word that is used often now and almost seems to be a fad is "albeit." I know it is a perfectly good word and probably has many uses, but sometimes it just seems forced into a news story or a piece of fiction.

  13. Oh, this post reminds me of a game I used to play when watching the Formula 1 grand prix with my husband or my friends: counting the number of times (now retired) commentator Murray Walker said "at the present time" in a race. I think we got a count of thirty once.

    One I really hate is "thinking outside the square". It's "the box"! It's not clever and unique to substitute square for box. It's stupid and now even more of a cliche.

    HearWriteNow & Blood-Red Pencil

  14. Oh, that second one really grates for me. AM is morning, PM is evening. You don't need both. When my LEOs and covert ops guys talk, they use the 24 hour clock and avoid it altogether!

    Another pet peeve: free gift. If it's a gift, you don't have to pay for it, right?

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  15. "Just sayin'" makes my blood boil. I had a couple of narcissistic students that used it to be defiant for no particular reason.

    I'm also a Montana native. It's nice to meet you, Heidi!

  16. I love that BBC one. I can just hear it being said on TV.

  17. Love those last two sentences, Heidi! Well done.

  18. Isn't this fun? Your additions are great. The problem is, a cliche starts out being a wonderful way to say something. But then everybody in the world snatches it up and uses it-- over and over and over and over!

    Thanks for your comments!

  19. Ooo! I forgot one. "It is what it is," and any variation thereof.


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