Monday, 3 March 2014

Identifying journalistic cliches

Mahesh Vijaurkar sent me this one: (Do not forget to go through the long list of comments)

Identifying journalistic clichés has become a favorite Washington parlor game. But might it not also open a rare window onto the struggles of writers and editors trying to think outside the box?
Over the past few years, some colleagues at The Washington Post and I have played our own parlor game, assembling a list of verbal crutches, stock phrases, filler words, cliches and perpetually misused expressions that we should avoid in The Post’s Sunday Outlook section — or at least think hard about before using. The list received some attention last year on the media blog Romenesko, triggering many more nominations and additions.
Below is the latest, expanded version, with twice as many entries. Feel free to suggest new entries (or arguments for why something should be taken off the list) in the comments section, or tweet at us: @CarlosLozadaWP or  @PostOutlook.

Believe me — this is not your father’s list of journalism cliches.

The Outlook List of Things We Do Not Say
At first glance (or worse, “at first blush”)
As a nation (or worse, “as a society”)
Upon deeper reflection (why not reflect deeply from the start?)
Observers (unless referring to people actually sitting around watching something)
[Person] is not alone (from anecdote to generalization, we get it)
Pundits say (or “critics say”)
The American people (unless in a quote)
The narrative (unless referring to a style of writing)
Probe (an uncomfortable substitute for “investigation”)
Opens/offers a rare window (unless it is a real window that is in fact unusual)
Begs the question (unless used properly – and so rarely used properly that it’s not worth the trouble)
Be that as it may
If you will (actually, I won’t)
Needless to say (then don’t say it)
Suffice it to say (if it suffices, then just say it)
This is not your father’s [anything]
[Anything] 2.0 (or 3.0, or 4.0…)
At a crossroads (unless referring to an actual intersection)
The powers that be
Outside the box (describes creative thinking — with a cliche)
A favorite Washington parlor game
Yes, Virginia, there is a [something]
Chock full (“full” is just fine by itself)
Last-ditch effort (unless ditch-digging is involved)
Midwife (as a verb, unless involving childbirth)
Cue the [something]
Call it [something]
Pity the poor [something]
It’s the [something], stupid
Imagine (as the first word in your lede)
Time will tell
Palpable sense of relief (unless you can truly touch it)
Rorschach test (unless it is a real one)
Turned a blind eye
Cycle of violence (unless referring to a particularly vicious Schwinn)
Famously (if readers know it, you don’t need to tell them it is famous; if they don’t know it, you just made them feel stupid)
The Other (or “otherize,” “otherization” and other variations)
Effort (as a verb)
Table (as a verb, as in “table the talks”)
Shutter (as a verb, as in “they shuttered the factory”)
Orwellian (unless discussing George Orwell)
Machiavellian (unless discussing Niccolo Machiavelli)
Gladwellian (never)
What happens in [somewhere] stays in [somewhere]
Closely watched
Hastily convened
Much ballyhooed
Shrouded in secrecy
Tipping point
Inflection point
Point of no return
The [anything] community
Ignominious end
Tightly knit (unless referring to actual knitting)
In the final analysis (especially as beginning of a final sentence/paragraph)
Ultimately (same as above)
At the end of the day (same as above)
Who lost [insert country here]?
Chattering classes
White-shoe law firm
Well-heeled lobbyists
Byzantine rules (unless referring to the empire in the Middle Ages)
Rise of the 24-hour news cycle (it’s been a while)
Not so fast
Remains to be seen
Tenuous at best
Or so it seems
Burst onto the national political scene
For now (especially at the end of a sentence set off by a dash; all it does is negate everything that came before)
Tectonic shifts (unless real ones)
Feeding frenzy/feeding the frenzy
Double down
[Anything]-gate (especially if you’re writing in The Washington Post)
Dons the mantle of
A portrait emerges
In a nutshell
The social fabric (or “the very fabric of our democracy/nation/society”)
Hot-button issue
Face-saving compromise
The argument goes
The thinking goes
Contrary to popular belief
The new normal
The talk of the town (unless referring to the New Yorker section)
It couple (or “power couple”)
Paradigm shift (in journalism, all paradigms are shifting)
Unlikely revolutionary (in journalism, all revolutionaries are unlikely)
Unlikely reformer (in journalism, all reformers are unlikely, too)
Grizzled veteran (in journalism, all veterans are either grizzled or “seasoned”)
Manicured lawns (in journalism, all lawns are manicured)
Wide-ranging interview (in journalism, all interviews range widely, even if they don’t)
Rose from obscurity (in journalism, all rises are from obscurity)
Dizzying array (in journalism, all arrays make one dizzy)
Withering criticism (in journalism, all criticism is withering)
Predawn raid (in journalism, all raids take place in the predawn hours)
Nondescript office building (in journalism, all office buildings are nondescript)
Unsung hero (in journalism, all heroes lack music)
Sparked debate
Raised questions
Ironic Capitalization Implying the Unimportance of Things Others Consider Important
But reality/truth is more complicated (in journalism, we oversimplify, then criticize the oversimplification)
Scarred by war (unless referring to real scars)
Trading barbs
Shines a spotlight on [something] (unless there is a real spotlight that is shining)
[Something] is no panacea
[Something] is no silver bullet
Political football
Political theater
More than you think (how do you know what I think?)
Less than you think (how do you know what I think?)
Not as much as you think (how do you know what I think?)
Shifting dynamics (code for “don’t hold me to this”)
The situation is fluid (code for “I have no idea what is going on”)
Partisans on both sides
Charm offensive
Fallen on hard times
On thin ice
Poster child
Going forward
Creature of Washington
Official Washington
A modest proposal (this was written once, very well, and has been written terribly ever since)
Stinging rebuke
Mr. [Anyone] goes to Washington (unless a reference to the actual movie)
The proverbial [something] (Tacking this in front of a cliche doesn’t excuse it, just admits you used it knowingly)
Fevered speculation
How did we get here? (code for “here comes the b-matter”)
But first, some background (code for “I know more than you do”)
Growing body of evidence
Resists easy classification/categorization
Increasingly (unless story proves something is in fact increasing)
Tapped (as substitute for “selected” or “appointed)
Any “not-un” formulation (as in “not unsurprising that you’d use that cliche”)
Wait for it
There, I said it
And here’s the kicker
See what I did there?


No comments: