I once wrote about the clichés we used in TV news. Oh, I still hear them every night. I even slip up and use them myself now and then. Whenever I say “Police are literally combing the area for clues,” or “The investigation is continuing,” I want to smack myself.
Now I’m working on eliminating some other clichés from my daily conversations. This is even harder. I have come to realize, if I cut out all the clichés, I may have very little left to say.
For instance, “At the end of the day.” I’m not sure of the exact time that takes place, but I think it’s around “When all is said and done.”
How about, “To be honest,” or even better, “I’m not gonna lie to you.” Does this mean I shouldn’t believe anything you’ve said up until now?
I’ve needled some of my school principal friends about their favorite phrase. Apparently you can’t be a principal until you’ve mastered the phrase, “At this time.” As in, “Students, at this time we are all going to the gym.” It isn’t an official order unless you say, “At this time.”
I once complained to a co-worker that I felt like “a red-headed stepchild.” She quickly pointed out that not only did she have red hair, but yes, she was also a stepchild. I just seem to have a gift for making small talk.
I never know quite what to say to console someone when they’re feeling down. I once told a friend, “Don’t worry, life is a marathon, not a sprint.” He said, “That’s not much of a choice. Either one would wear me out.” Later in the conversation I told him, “Just let me know if there’s anything at all I can do for you.” Without missing a beat, he replied, “Absolutely. You can paint my house.”
How about when someone rattles on for a while, then says, “Does that make sense?” I guess I could respond with an equally inane cliché like, “I hear what you’re saying.” Together, we have proven only that he speaks somewhat sensibly, and I don’t need a hearing aid.
There are other phrases we use that are basically time fillers. “I’m just sayin’!” (Yes, we heard you say it). “I say that to say this.” (So, why didn’t you just say “this” in the first place?) “Now this is just ME talking.” (Yep. There’s no one else around). “It’s neither here nor there.” (But it has to be somewhere, right?) Plus, my personal favorite, “Needless to say…” (So don’t say it.)
I have also noticed that when someone says, “To make a long story short,” the story is about to get much longer.
If you ever listen to a coach or athlete being interviewed, you can count on these clichés: “It is what it is.” (So, what is it exactly?) Just once, when a reporter says, “Was this a big win?” and the athlete responds by saying, “No question,” I wish the reporter would say, “Uh, yes it was a question. Could you please answer it?”
You see it in ads too. How about, “New and Improved!” (It has to be one or the other, it can’t be both). “It’s a new beginning!” (Ever seen an old beginning?) And, “We’re thinking outside the box!” (Has anyone ever seen that box?)
In a recent help wanted ad, the employer told applicants to be prepared to answer questions about their “past history.” Believe me, that is so much easier than talking about your future history.
How about, “Pre Planning”? Does that mean you have to plan to plan?
When someone tells me, “I just can’t wrap my head around that,” I have to firmly agree.
Sometimes folks will mix up their clichés, and make an even better one. There was this one guy who was trying to say, “It’s not rocket science,” but he got it confused with, “It’s not brain surgery.” He ended up saying, “It’s not rocket surgery!”
Remember when you would see someone face to face, and actually talk to them? In 2018, that just won’t do. Now you must “reach out.” As in, “Could you reach out to the preacher to see if he likes dumplings?” I want to say, “He lives right across the street. Don’t reach out. Just holler at him!”
How about these annoying clichés? “Well, personally, I think…” (Well, I figured it was you, since you’re the one who’s talking,) And, “I can’t EVEN!” (You can’t even what? Finish a sentence?)
I’ll close with this. You’ve probably heard someone say, “He made his bed, now he has to sleep in it.” That one is true. And it usually happens, “At the end of the day.”
David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.