Friday, September 11, 2009

Eschew the Cliche

Business writing; plain and simple.

On September 1st of this year, Canadian journalist Robert Fulford published in the National Post a column called The Most Irritating Phrases in the English Language. The column is an erudite rant against the use of banal phrases and exhausted clichés currently so much in vogue among political pundits, business writers and far too many journalists who should know better.
Quoting British writer Jeremy Butterfield's book: “Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare,” Fulford places the expression "at the end of the day" right at the head of the "Top 10 Most Irritating Expressions in the English Language." Damp squid, by the way, comes, according to Fulford, from the mistake people make when they want to describe something as a failure and use the term “damp squib,” meaning a firework that fails to go off. Misunderstanding the root of the metaphor, they pronounce or spell it “squid.”
Along with “the bottom line” and “going forward,” surely “at the end of the day” has to be one of the most overused and, as a result, almost meaningless, expressions in common currency in business communication. But these dregs fished from what Fulford refers to as "… a tiny and stagnant pool of stock expressions," are not the only offenders to dog the long-suffering copy editor. “At a team, moving forward together, into the future,” marries three others exhausted business clichés, and the expression “sea change” has got to be close to the top of my personal list of expressions I love to hate. “Sea change” is used by business communicators who want to suggest a dramatic new change in a company’s direction, often from imminent failure to sudden success. The fact that the expression has found its way into business English from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest,” where Prospero uses it to refer to decomposition caused by the sea, confers a nice ironic twist to the current, intended meaning of “sea change.”
As someone who has spent most of his career either writing, editing or teaching business writing, Fulford’s column and Jeremy Butterfield's book are among some rare and wonderful reminders that the language of business and politics does not have to be irritatingly hackneyed, predictable and, far too often, incorrect.
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