'It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then, like most clichés, that cliché is untrue!' (Stephen Fry)
It is impossible nowadays to avoid the buzzwords and clichés which assail our ears on a daily basis in the media. They are as common today as young men's beards. A buzzword is defined as a word (or phrase) often originating in technology or business, which then rapidly gains currency through repetition. Modern clichés follow the same pattern.
The provenance of both can generally be identified. For example, in sport: 'Step up to the plate' (to move near the plate for striking the ball which is pitched in baseball). Or in science: 'A window of opportunity' (from Nasa's reference to a launch window).
Do we really need to use these buzzwords and clichés so frequently when the English language already provides ample ways to express the same meaning?
The following are a selection of buzzwords and clichés which are now used slavishly, some of which are extremely tedious and most of which are entirely unnecessary:
1. Having said that:
As it is perfectly obvious, if one is listening, that the speaker 'has said that', then the simple use of such conjunctions as 'nevertheless', 'anyway', or such expressions as 'in any case', will convey the same meaning perfectly well.
2. Road Map:
Once describing the map we might use when travelling, once more, the Americans have updated the expression to mean a plan, project or strategy. For example: 'The road map for the Middle East peace process will involve talks between all parties.'
'The plan' is just as clear.
3. Thinking outside the box:
This apparently derives from management consultants in the 1970s and 1980s challenging their clients to solve a 'nine dots' puzzle by using 'lateral thinking'.
'Use your imagination' or 'come up with some new ideas' would suffice here.
4. All things being equal:
This is believed to have originated in the Latin phrase ceteris paribus (with all other things the same). 'Given the same circumstances' or 'provided no complications arise' can as easily be used.
5. Plays out:
We hear this expression ad nauseam among broadcasters: 'Let's see how this situation plays out.' Worse still, we are now hearing 'playing into' to describe related ideas.
Surely it is as easy to say, 'Let's see how this situation develops' or 'Let's see what happens here'.
If we listen to political commentators and news reporters nowadays, we will hear this buzzword used with tedious frequency: 'The Taoiseach's narrative just doesn't measure up to the present situation' etc.
'Account of events', 'party line', or even the dreadful term 'spin', surely sound better, allowing us to consign 'narrative' to its more appropriate place in literary criticism.
7. Roll out:
Originally referring to the introduction of a new aircraft, where the machine would literally be 'rolled out' of its hanger, it has now become a trendy cliché to express the idea of announcing something for the first time or introducing a new policy. For example: 'The Government will shortly roll out its new housing programme.'
It's surely not unreasonable to use 'introduce' here instead.
The American activist, Ralph Nader, reputedly coined this epithet in the 1970s as a substitute for 'informer/snitch'. But since this term already carried a pejorative association before that time, it is surely as politically correct to use the term 'informant' today.
This is a very common verb, often associated with computers, meaning to mark something for notice in advance or to emphasise its importance. For example: 'The Government had already flagged its policy on immigration.'
'Outlined' or 'announced' would look just as well!
10. A sense that:
This is now used by almost every broadcaster/commentator. For example: 'There was a sense that the violence was unlikely to stop' etc.
Here, the meaning appears to be a feeling or interpretation.
'It was expected that the violence was unlikely to stop' might sound less tiresome than the noun 'sense'.
Apparently, this hideous verb was conceived as the opposite of the verb 'overwhelmed', but the original meaning of overwhelmed, from Middle English, was to cover entirely (eg. by water). It now appears to mean unimpressed or failing to impress. For example: 'That play left me really underwhelmed.'
Why can we not simply say: 'That play left me cold,' or 'I was not impressed by that play'?
This noun means the figurative, rather than the literal use of a word or phrase (eg. bleeding heart). As with other modern buzzwords, it has now been flogged to death, especially by book and film reviewers who have substituted the figurative sense of the word for the description of a recurring element in art, media, politics etc. For example: 'The media trope of corrupt politicians.'
It is surely possible to avoid this overused expression by such simple terms as theme, motif, idea, notion etc.
This should mean the scientific study of light and vision but, as with other current buzzwords, it is now used in a figurative sense to describe a perception among the public. For example: 'Politicians are now concerned with the optics of bank bonuses' etc.
One could avoid using the term by simply using the noun 'perception' or 'interpretation'.
This American cliché is used too frequently today. It means something that requires little or no thought (ie. something you could decide even if you had no brain). For example: 'When I was offered a salary of €200,000, my decision was a no-brainer.'
This could as easily read: 'When I was offered a salary of €200,000, I didn't need to think twice about it.'
15. At the end of the day:
This expression is now far removed from the old song, which goes:
'At the end of the day just kneel and say
Thank you Lord for my work and play'
Used frequently by footballers, football pundits and the glamour model Katie Price herself (incessantly), the expression means 'when all is said and done' or 'all things considered'. Either of the former expressions are certainly less irritating than 'at the end of the day'.
16. But hey!
The interjection 'hey' originally expressed surprise, discovery, dismay, or was used to call someone to attention. Now, it has entered the lexicon of superfluous American expressions being used to indicate that, since nothing can be done in a situation, it should be accepted. For example: 'We missed the train but hey! You can't always be on time!'
The less 'but hey' is heard the better for humanity!
17. When push comes to shove:
This cliché may possibly have its origin in rugby, although it may also refer to fighting. 'As a last resort', 'if absolutely necessary' or 'when actually tested' make more sense.
18. Going forward:
The use of this irritating, superfluous cliché should carry a jail sentence! While it is used to preface sentences where 'in future', 'from here on' etc is implied, it is quite unnecessary: 'Going forward, the plan should be in operation soon.'
For God's sake, delete the first two words!
19. Learning curve:
The graphical representation of learning (vertical axis) in relation to experience (horizontal axis) was first plotted by the German psychologist Ebbinghaus, but is there a need to use the term 'learning curve' when all that is meant is the learning process? For example: 'The game of chess has a steep learning curve.'
'The game of chess takes a long time to learn' would be more than sufficient to express the idea, surely.
This is now regularly substituted for the noun view/opinion. For example: 'What's your take on the referendum?'
'What's your view?' sounds infinitely better.
21. Playing catch-up:
This is another ugly Americanism which has gained currency. For example: 'When the Russians launched Sputnik 1, the Americans spent the next few years playing catch-up.'
'... spent years trying to catch up' would make perfect sense here.
22. A tad:
Originally, this referred to a small child (from tadpole?), but now, we hear its baneful usage all too frequently. For example: 'Could you speak a tad louder?'
'... a little louder' sounds so much more familiar.
23. A shout out:
This inane expression is creeping into the media: 'I want to give a big shout out to all my colleagues in the gardai.'
The meaning here is, apparently, a public acknowledgement on radio or TV.
'I want to mention all my colleagues in the gardai' makes so much more sense.
24. Second guess:
Another tedious American expression which can mean to try to predict something or to criticise. For example: 'I'm not going to try to second guess what the Government will do in the budget.'
'Guess', 'predict', 'work out' would all suffice here instead.
While it may suggest rolling stock being disengaged from a locomotive, it has now become a term to describe divorce. Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow last year described their amicable divorce arrangement as a 'conscious uncoupling'.
Maybe it is time to consider using simpler, adequate expressions rather than allowing the present crop of excruciating clichés to continue to 'go viral'.
However, 'having said that', I suppose that's really 'a huge ask'!
Dr Declan Collinge is a bilingual poet and former English teacher/lecturer. He is the author of over 20 textbooks