*Editor’s note: This is part of a ‘mini-series’ where Neue’s good friend, Davidson, will share tips on how to improve your writing. From all of us here at Neue, we hope these articles will help improve your business writing skills and help you to succeed in your workplace.
In this week’s article, we want to explore what clichés are and whether we should use them in business writing. My training participants and readers alike, often ask me the difference between clichés, idioms and figures of speech like similes, metaphors, and hyperbole.
Let us begin with a short explanation of each:
Figures of speech
A figure of speech is a word, phrase or an expression that conveys an idea using figurative language i.e. language that has other meaning than its normal dictionary definition. Figures of speech make up a large part of the English language. Using figurative language makes the writer more creative and expressive. When you use figurative language, it creates visual imagery for your readers, and this makes your business writing more interesting and memorable.
However, a paragraph that is loaded with similes and metaphors can be complicated and difficult to understand. So, use figurative language sparingly. Remember that while using figures of speech adds colour to your writing, do not overuse it.
An idiom is a common phrase with a figurative meaning. The meaning is not obvious from a literal interpretation of the words. For example, “don’t be penny wise and pound foolish”, means to be extremely careful about small amounts of money but not careful enough when it comes to large amounts of money. It is also difficult to guess the meaning of this phrase if you have not already been introduced to these idioms previously.Another example is the way we usually describe a heavy rainfall: “It’s raining cats and dogs”. What do dogs and cats have to do with rain? A native English speaker would know precisely what that phrase means, and it means nothing if translated literally into any other language. Can you imagine translating this idiom to Bahasa? (This is a rhetorical question).
Similes (pronounced sim-uh-lee)
A simile is an expression that uses the words “like” or “as” to make a direct comparison between two things A simile is very similar to a metaphor except that a simile uses the words “like” or “as” to show the comparison. “She is as innocent as an angel” is a simile.
Unlike idioms, similes, can be translated into other languages and make sense. Using similes help improve your writing by adding colour and powerful visualisations that simple sentences cannot provide. Most importantly, similes help your audience connect with your writing and deepens their understanding of your message.
If you notice, similes can often be found in song lyrics, as they let you convey deeper meaning with fewer words. For example: “My heart is like an open highway” from the song “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi or “Hit me like a ray of sun” from the song “Halo” by Beyoncé.
A metaphor is a word or phrase typically used to describe one thing but unexpectedly used to describe something different. Metaphors make language interesting and helps create an image in the readers mind. “She was drowning in paperwork” is a metaphor that makes a connection between having to deal with a lot of paperwork and drowning in water.“She is as innocent as an angel” is a simile, but “She is an angel” is a metaphor. Unlike idioms, it is possible to understand metaphors and similes even if you have never heard it before.
Hyperbole (pronounced hai-puh-buh-lee)
Hyperbole is a type of figurative language that describes something as better or worse than it really is. It is not to be taken literally. Hyperbole is just another word for ‘exaggeration’. “I have a million things to do” is a hyperbole. This should be avoided in business writing.
Clichés (pronounced klee·shay)
Cliché is an expression that is common and has been overused to the point where it is boring and uncreative. Some clichés have “lost their meaning” over time.
These buzzwords and phrases used to feel fresh one time, but have since lost their creativity and impact. If you are in a meeting and your boss says, “think outside the box,” does it really make you stop thinking inside the box?These overused phrases do not provide a specific meaning or image. You are probably familiar with many of them:
- Every cloud has a silver lining
- Read between the lines
- In the nick of time
- You win some, you lose some
- Easy come, easy go
- Fit as a fiddle
- Have a nice day
Why shouldn’t you use clichés in business writing?
Using clichés in your business writing is considered dreadful because it looks like you did not put any thought into your words. If you notice that you have been using clichés in your writing, do not fret. We all do it occasionally. The first step to fix this is knowing what they are and when they are overused. Next step is to read through your writing and edit it. If you come across anything that sounds like a cliché, trust me, your writing can do without it.
Here are some common clichés used in the workplace:
- We need to wrap our heads around this
- Breaking down silos
- Paradigm shift
- Raise the bar
- Out your ducks in one row
- Think outside the box
- Throw them under the bus
- Avoid it like the plague
- The fact of the matter
- Moving forward
- At the end of the day
- My door is always open
- Take it to the next level
- Failure is not an option
- Back to square one
- Grab the low-hanging fruit
- I want to address the elephant in the room
- I don’t think you’re comparing apples to apples
- We need to manage the optics of this
- Clichés are vague
- Clichés make you seem boring (same as others)
- Clichés make you seem lazy
So, avoid using clichés in business writing where possible but feel free to explore with similes and metaphors.
Next week, we will talk about ‘Commonly misused words and phrases.’
Drop me a note or comment on today’s post. Let us know what some of the common clichés you have seen or heard in your workplace. I would love to hear all about it. If you have a question or need any advice on writing, we are here to answer them.
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| Virtual Training Begins June 1 |
I will be conducting a virtual training on “Mastering Professional Business Writing” from June 1, 2020.
The course, which will be divided into 6 sessions over the course of 2 weeks, is priced at 599 Brunei Dollars (50% off the retail price). Each session is one-and-a-half hours. Coaching after class for up to 6 months will also be included.
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Closing date for registration via Neue is May 27, 2020.