Rules about clichés bear repeating

Oh, I dread the last-ditch effort required when I have a tight business deadline hanging over my head.

Oh, I dread the last-ditch effort required when I have a tight business deadline hanging over my head.

At moments like these, I find it difficult to draw on my wealth of experience and to think outside the box. Instead, when time is running out, I find myself time and again, just going with the flow.

Ugh. Clichés. It seems like they rear their ugly heads more and more these days.

As CMO at Factiva, a Dow Jones and Reuters company, I'm often asked to review press releases, case studies, and other written communications. My team does a great job, and I rarely have significant changes or suggestions... unless I spot a cliché.

Recently, I got to thinking about clichés and the frequency of use. Are clichés used by the pros, I wondered? Do editors at magazines and newspapers tolerate these things from reporters? And what are the most frequently abused clichés in magazines and newspapers?

To conduct this research, we applied text mining to our database of more than 1,450 newspapers, magazines, trade publications, and newswires between January and July 2006 to search for the top 20 clichés.

We were surprised that at the end of the day received the most mentions (12,460), much more than the nearest rivals in the red and in the black. How do you account for such a high number of uses of this phrase? I positively squirm when someone purposely pauses their writing (or speech) to add fake drama with that overused bit of at the end of the day nonsense. When I hear at the end of the day, I'll wait to see what's coming. It would seem that there will be a significant insight to follow, but inevitably I'm disappointed. At the end of the day is never worth the hype.

When I was a kid, my mother would tell me and my brothers she'd wash our mouths out with soap if we uttered certain bathroom words and phrases. I would like to nominate at the end of the day as a bathroom phrase. Use it at your own peril, for now I carry a bar of soap with me wherever I go.

Equally surprising was the relatively low numbers received overall. We had assumed that many tortured phrases like low-hanging fruit would have seen more use than 675 times in 1,450 publications over seven months.

What does all this tell us? Perhaps there is a long tail of clichés? Or are the numbers low because publications have cliché police like me, armed with red markers at the ready? If so, those unsung heroes of the media business, editors, earn their keep as they purge us of the dreaded cliché.

So what's the bottom line in all of this analysis, you ask? We need to be more aware of the words we use on a daily basis.

Besides, at the end of the day, it's time to go to sleep.

Alan Scott is chief marketing officer of Factiva.

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