Saturday, September 18, 2021

Just don't do this

 All those years I listened to reporters bitching that the copy desk was crushing their creativity I also  marveled at their fondness for hackneyed devices. It may be that they think, as one reporter once told me, "It's not a cliche when I use it," but readers are undeceived. 

If you feel tempted to use any of these, reach for the nearest book and bring it down smartly on your hand. (Readers should feel free to add items in the comments.) 

Something and something and something, oh my!

Meet Firstname Lastname. 

It's not your grandfathers'/father's X. 

Webster's defines X as ...

Welcome to ... 

Yes, Virginia ...

Ah, X. 

It was an X seasonal, X weathery day ...

Any opening that asks a question, to which the reader's likely response is "Who cares?"

The good news is, the bad news is ... 

A sentence that some situation is "still" the case, tipping the reader that the story offers nothing new. 

The "X is not alone," "X is not the only" transition from an anecdotal opening.  Just get on with it. The reader knows how this convention works. 


  1. I had forgotten the late Dick Thien's splendid inventory of dud devices. Go and sin no more.

  2. Hypophora. Does anyone like this device? No. Will writers still endlessly use it? Yes. Can it sometimes consume entire paragraphs? Sure. Does it almost always signal lazy or unskilled writing? Yup. Does it appear in every third article lately? Unfortunately.

    1. Do I sometimes ask myself rhetorical questions and then answer them? Absolutely. Does that make me a hack? Unquestionably.

  3. Once, confronted with a cliche so tired that its meaning had worn away, I wrote something to the effect that most people had gotten it out of their systems in Junior high school. The reporter happened to see it before an editor did, and my boss ruled that my tactlessness overrode the accuracy of the comment, so the horrible thing got into print unchanged. Taught me a lesson about being nice.

  4. Fires are "sparked"... Everything is "amid" the epidemic or whatever is going on... and businesses without shutters are "shuttered." These are just a few of my least-favorite things.

  5. No argument here from me, a fan of William Strunk and E.B. White. “The Little Book” merits its place at my elbow — and yours.

  6. I particularly like the "Webster's defines..." because it is imprecise. Which of the several dictionaries bearing Mr. Webster's name is being quoted?

  7. "Seminal," often used in rock music reviews to describe bands of questionable impact.