Cliché or Not Cliché

“Whatever” topped Marist College’s recent list of the most annoying conversational word or phrase, the choice of 47% of the 938 Americans surveyed. “You know” finished second with 25%, followed by “it is what it is” (11%), “anyway” (7%) and “at the end of the day” (2%). Those were, like, uh, the only five choices–ignoring many other deserving candidates.

As usual, I’m outside the mainstream on this. To me, an awkward “you know” (or two, or 10) is the biggest turnoff in a person’s conversation. “Whatever” can have several connotations, depending how it’s delivered. With the right nuance, it can still be an effective word to express exasperation or dissonance. Regardless of how a speaker says it, the word always conveys some meaning.

“You know,” on the other hand, has no redeeming value. It’s an obstacle, a conversational stalling tactic, a sure sign of indecision and nervousness. Look at Caroline Kennedy: One “you know”-laden interview killed her quest to succeed Hilary Clinton as U.S. Senator from New York.

In writing, of course, the list of overused expressions runs much longer than these five conversational annoyances. But when you’re writing a letter to a prospective client, a memo to your team or a report, it’s hard to know when a particular expression crosses over from widely understood figure of speech to sad cliché. Nor does it always matter; if the phrase is still connecting with your audience, using a cliché might be entirely appropriate.

Ultimately, it’s purely a matter of taste, of finding a balance and a rhythm in your writing and adopting a tone that feels natural. Finding that happy medium is another reason everyone can use an objective editor.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Writing Tips

One response to “Cliché or Not Cliché

  1. Pingback: More Banished Phrases « The Long and Short of It

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s