Rising Above Cliches, Jargon & Other Assaults on Our Story-telling Senses

“In an amazing, unique development that will leverage cutting-edge technology with grassroots principles, the Acme Redevelopment Group, Inc. is utilizing a new game-changer in the burgeoning lint removal industry.”

If you had not detected the patent ridiculousness of that opening line already, the last few words should have been a tip-off: lint removal industry? Although there are lint removal systems, and lint removal is unquestionably a noble endeavor in furthering our wardrobe aims, it’s doubtful that one could properly say that there is a lint removal industry.

By contrast, it’s certainly proper to regard the opening line as an assault on our story-telling senses. It’s an extreme example of the over-the-top, off-putting jargon that occasionally creeps into the writing of public relations and marketing practitioners.

Let’s break it down:

*Amazing

When we overuse words that should be reserved for only sporadic use, we dilute their meaning and, consequently, their impact. In speech, “awesome” is an example of this dulling of something that ought to be truly, well, awesome or amazing. People, even the things that certain people do at extraordinary times, are rarely either.

*Unique

Is it genuinely “unlike anything else”? It had better be, if you use “unique,” lest you diminish the credibility of the rest of your copy. Even if something is unique, because it’s so frequently misused, you ought to consider a synonym like “distinctive.”

*Leverage

If you can picture a stuffed shirt saying a particular word (like “leverage”) aloud, particularly when he or she is around other self-important types, that should be a red flag cautioning you to nix its use in written form. Boil things down to conversational level–after all, that’s where most of the world, including your target audience, lives.

*Cutting-edge

Oh, cut it out. You should know better by now. White noise, anyone?

*Grassroots

Ditto…cue up the scolding delivered over the nauseating and sophomoric use of “cutting-edge.”

Think about what you are really intending to say when writing “grassroots”–then write that instead. It may mean word-of-mouth or “tiny budget” or something else entirely, which underscores precisely why you should flee from the “g” word–its hazy imprecision.

*Utilizing

Unless you are writing about a utility–like an electric company–banish this word in its various forms from your vocabulary. While some may argue that “utilize” is a nuanced variation of “use,” I would reply that a better utility of their time is to just admit defeat or, at least, to take refuge in a utility closet.

*Game-changer

This is a real Flavor of the Month term, and it seems to be picking up speed. Our fondness for sports metaphors may be exceeded only by our reliance on military terms. Gotta call the cliche police on this one.

*Burgeoning

Actually, I’m partial to burgeoning. But, sure, perhaps “budding” or “blossoming” or plain old “growing” would be a better fit, depending on the story’s context.

So let’s re-examine that opening line. How best to start telling this story? Think about how you would say it over a cup of coffee to a friend:

Nobody likes lint, but hardly anyone gives any thought to fighting it. An exception is the Acme Redevelopment Group, whose blend of common sense and uncommon technology bodes well for countless future loads of laundry.

No, it’s not an amazing, unique development in the annals of story-telling. But it’s a significant improvement.

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