Telling stories

Make your writing hip and cool with the simple and time tested

Posted by southwrite on August 18, 2009

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While there are many ways to improve your writing one quick and easy – if not painless – way is cut the clichés, the hip sayings, and other jargon that cloud rather than advance communication.

Let’s confess, we love them even if we don’t always recognize a cliche as a cliche. The job wasn’t easy. No, it was a slam dunk. It wasn’t an obvious choice, it was a no-brainer. The passé was “so five minutes ago.” It’s not that they so aptly describe a situation – they really don’t – but we feel that by uttering them we have acquired a bit of the cache of the trend setters. It makes us feel cool and even more  intelligent. (A friend described it this way: “Yes, it makes me feel smart: S-A-M-R-T!) All these hip phrases aren’t new and cool. They’re just more overused and tired expressions — in other words clichés.

Leslie Savan, in Slam Dunks and No Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, and Like, Whatever explained it this way: “The catchwords, phrases, inflections, and quickie concepts that Americans seem unable to communicate without have grown into a verbal kudzu, overlaying regional differences with a national (even an international) pop accent that tells us more about how we think than what we think.”

Of course, its one thing to pepper water cooler conversation with pop references. At worst you’re only boring a few office mates. Once you start incorporating them into the written word you automatically begin to date your work. If your article is posted on the web it’s going to have much longer life than you might imagine and buzz phrases will seem awfully dated.

The editor at a local business journal issued the edict that never again would there be a “perfect storm” in the pages of her newspapers – unless it was in reference to a motion picture starring George Clooney. Even though the film debuted back in 1997 commentators, entrepreneurs and even ordinary people are still finding “perfect storms” in their lives.

By time you picked up that hip turn of phrase it has already been uttered and written millions of times – disseminated over and over again through a never sleeping, coast-to-coast and around the world media. Every bit of life and originality has been painfully squeezed from every pop phrase. Worst of all, the hipsters who originated the phrase stopped using it a long time ago and moved on to new and ever more trendy phrases.

The same can also be said of the endless stream of specialized industry jargon. Oddly, enough although most of the media including books, articles, and blogs have been dumbed down to the point that it’s unlikely you’ll come across any unfamiliar word, business reports, white papers, sales copy and brochures are often filled with words that nobody outside the industry could possibly know.

So, if all the clichés and cool expressions are out what are you left with for your writing. Well, there’s plain old English. Using simple accurate words always work. If you’re really good you can probably come up with your own turn of phrase that’s just as good as a “perfect storm” but maybe more original and more fitting. When you do that then you will be hip and more than a little cool.

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