What Are the Worst Journalism Cliches?

 

shutterstock_158484926Earlier this week at the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada compiled a list of the 150 worst journalistic cliches. As a writer who’s not immune to falling prey to a few of these tics, I winced a few times. As an editor who stalks and kills many of these formulations in the wild, however, I was more often drunk with delight. Here are a few examples of instances where I think the Post’s contempt is deserved:

  • “Needless to Say”— This is a phrase that announces its own irrelevance. Taken literally, the words are committing suicide. I look forward to the day when word processors are programmed to automatically delete it 
  • “Broken System” — Worth banning if only to shut Norm Ornstein up for awhile. Seriously, can we get a blanket prohibition on thumb-sucking opinion pieces that elide the distinction between “Washington doesn’t work” and “Washington doesn’t work the way I want it to”?
  • Much Ballyhooed” — I’m more forgiving that most of writing-specific diction. I’d never write a column the same way I’d write a speech. Different styles are appropriate for different media. There’s only so much elasticity permitted, however. “Ballyhoo” takes it too far. Never employ vocabulary that could plausibly have been originated by Dr. Seuss.
  • “Twitterati’ — Italian for “writers who are falling behind on their deadlines.”
  • “The Narrative” (unless referring to a style of writing) — First, it’s just an incredibly sterile phrase. More importantly, though, it’s gateway to a sort of meta-commentary. I never trusts journalists who talk about “the narrative” as if it’s set in stone. They have the power to change it. Give me the facts and I’ll make sense of them for myself.

As with all such exercises, a lot of these judgments are subjective. The Post flags “inflection point,” for example, which I regard as a phrase with no ready substitute, even if it’s a bit overused.

Likewise, I find the criticism of “begs the question” excessively pedantic. Yes, it has a specific meaning in a philosophical context, but the more common usage is so deeply embedded into the way we talk that it’s probably not worth resisting. Will the world really be that much better a place if everyone says “invites the question” instead?

How about you? What are some of your least favorite journalistic cliches? And are there items on Lozada’s list that you’d likewise defend from attack?

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  1. user_423975 Coolidge
    user_423975
    @BrandonShafer

    EThompson:

    It doesn’t qualify as a cliché, perhaps, but Randy Webster has inspired me to comment on the term I have despised forever – “casualties” – as if there is anything remotely casual about the death of a soldier. Perhaps one of the members who has served in the military can explain the origin of this noxious word.

     I’m no expert, but from a quick internet search, it appears that casualty and casual come from different words.  But both are based on latin words having to do with chance.

    • #61
  2. user_1029039 Inactive
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Somethingsomething…ON STEROIDS!

    • #62
  3. user_1029039 Inactive
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    ctlaw:

    “a [insert city name] man…”

     This, you can’t get away from easily, so it bothers me less than it does you. They have to say where the guy is from. Plus, this also gave birth to our modern-day Everyman, Area Man.

    • #63
  4. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    X does not a Y make!

    • #64
  5. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Brandon Shafer:

    EThompson:

    It doesn’t qualify as a cliché, perhaps, but Randy Webster has inspired me to comment on the term I have despised forever – “casualties” – as if there is anything remotely casual about the death of a soldier. Perhaps one of the members who has served in the military can explain the origin of this noxious word.

    I’m no expert, but from a quick internet search, it appears that casualty and casual come from different words. But both are based on latin words having to do with chance.

     Thanks for doing my homework for me. :)

    • #65
  6. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    “Some say…”  Translation: I, journalist say…

    “The Republicans’ actions raised questions about …”  Translation: I, journalist question it.

    • #66
  7. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    Brandon Shafer: I’m no expert, but from a quick internet search, it appears that casualty and casual come from different words. But both are based on latin words having to do with chance.

    This makes sense.  The Spanish word for coincidence is casualidad.  The Spanish –idad ending is basically equivalent to English -ity (reality = realidad, responsibility = responsibilidad, Christmas/Nativity = Navidad, unity = unidad, security = seguridad).

    So in Spanish, a coincidence is a “casuality”.

    • #67
  8. virgil15marlow@yahoo.com Coolidge
    virgil15marlow@yahoo.com
    @Manny

    Wow I read the entire list and had a hard time choosing.  I could have chose all 150 cliches as detestable.  Shows you how much I hate journalism.  I narrowed it down the six that makes me most cringe:

    The narrative

    At a crossroads  

    Last-ditch effort

    Plenty of blame to go around

    The devil is in the details

    Growing body of evidence

    I would say “The devil is in the details” is the worst offender.  The devil is always in the details.  What do they think, details are not important?

    • #68
  9. virgil15marlow@yahoo.com Coolidge
    virgil15marlow@yahoo.com
    @Manny

    Now that I’ve read all the comments, some of you guys have added some good ones.  It’s amazing how endless the journalistic list of cliches can be.

    Boots on the ground is particularly annoying.  What an idiotic euphemism, as if the rest of the soldier is not on the ground too.  Maybe next time we ought to parachute the entire inventory of a shoe store instead of sending in soldiers.

    • #69
  10. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    Stad:

    I’m sick of “the wrong side of history” myself.

    I always picture a weary traveler plodding to the top of a high mountain, kneeling before an Olympian God, explaining what he has done, and then asking, “O Merciful God of History, am I on the right or wrong side?”

    The God of History answers, “Come back in about fifty years and I’ll have an answer for you.”

    Historical judgment requires a lot of perspective, something we lack while it’s happening.

    • #70
  11. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    double post

    • #71
  12. MikeHs Inactive
    MikeHs
    @MikeHs

    Left-wing journalists always like to refer to what “activists” say about things.  To them, “activists” are exalted thinkers and allies to the cause, whose mere presence certifies sanctity to whatever left-wing drivel these so-called activists, and journalists, want to see enacted or commanded.  Conservatives to journalists are never “activists” but are merely recalcitrant resisters to necessary progress.

    • #72
  13. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    “Strange new respect” — which means someone on our side is about to betray us.

    • #73
  14. Foxman Inactive
    Foxman
    @Foxman

    Irene F. Starkehaus:
     
     somebody beat me to it

    • #74
  15. user_56871 Thatcher
    user_56871
    @TheScarecrow

    Nothing wrong with “boots on the ground” and “blood and treasure”.  But they are expressions to be used by people with skin in the game* – soldiers.  When a politician or bureaucrat or (shudder) journalist uses either as a kind of insider hip-speak, it’s fingernails on the blackboard. F***ing shut up! 

    *”Skin in the game” (other than when used by Rob Long) is also among the worst offenders. J****, stop it.

    • #75
  16. Ray Gunner Coolidge
    Ray Gunner
    @RayGunner

    Worst Broadcast Journalism Cliche:

    The broadcast journalist who delivers all of her copy in perfect, unaccented English, unless the copy contains Spanish language words.  Suddenly, she feels compelled to speak each Spanish word in the accent she used when she auditioned for Maria in her high school production of West Side Story.

    • #76
  17. Blue State Blues Member
    Blue State Blues
    @BlueStateBlues

    A burning building is always “a spectacular fire.”  Funny, the building’s owner and residents don’t feel the same way (yes, I know the literal meaning of spectacular; the persistent overuse is the point).

    A government job appointment is always a “post.”  I don’t know anyone outside the news media who always uses that word.

    One does not win the nomination in a primary; one “gets the nod.”  They even talk about how many “nods” the Democrats got vs. the Republicans.  Funny, I don’t see anyone nodding; I thought you had to win an election.

    • #77
  18. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    Jason Rudert:

    Somethingsomething…ON STEROIDS!

     Yeah! Steroids add lean mass and increase performance. That’s not the context it is usually used. 

    • #78
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