Cliches in Audio

Cliches are lazy English which betray a lack of imagination and thought. Some started out as an acceptable form of language but have become hackneyed through over use. Others fail to convey accurately the meaning you wish to express. Whenever you feel the urge to use a cliché, stop and ponder whether you can substitute a more original expression. Sometimes though, especially if used with irony they can be effective. But as we always say in journalism: know the rules, but they are there to be broken but only of you know what you are doing.

Our current most hated radio cliche:  “at the end of the day”. Much loved by sports people alongside “It is a game of two halves”. The latest one that football managers are using is to say that a player “questioned” the opposition which seems to mean they used their brains when playing and were goal hungry in play.

 Many other examples:

Assistance – as in ‘rendered assistance’, use helped

Blaze – some radio stations ban this word, others like it, as it avoids saying fire/fire crews all the time. Use sparingly

Boost – journalese

Disabilities – do not say the disabled, the deaf, the blind. These people are members of society in their own right. They are deaf/blind people, or people with impaired hearing/vision/disabilities. Avoid ‘handicapped’.

Dramatic – use sparingly. Often unnecessary if you describe the event well

Draconian – harsh or cruel laws and punishment, not severe in general

Exceedingly – very

Exceeding the speed limit – speeding

Fighting for his/her life – banned. They’re probably unconscious. Say critically ill.

Full scale – as in search. Suggests other searches and similar operations are half-hearted

Getaway – escape

Gutted – to strip out the insides (of a fish etc.). In a fire story use only if the interior of a building is totally destroyed. Beware football managers

Helping the police with their inquiries – being questioned/interviewed. The suspect is not providing police with the answers to crossword clues

Hospitalise – American. Do not use

Inform – tell

Initiate  – start, begin

Inquire – ask

Inferno – fire

Ironically – this means saying the opposite of what you mean for effect, as in “You’re a big help” or “That’s just what I needed”. It does not mean paradox or coincidence.

Inside the tent – as in pissing out – is overused

In the driving seat – cliche

last ditch  – final

Less – smaller in amount. As in less sugar. Use fewer for smaller in quantity, or things you can count, so fewer sugar lumps, fewer people etc.

Literally – this means it really is so. Be very sparing and think over your meaning or it becomes fatuous, as in “He literally flew into her arms.”

Major  – overused. As in major disaster, or a major air and sea search. How do you define a minor one? Big will often suffice

Massive – overused. It means large and solid, not simply big

Miraculous/lucky escape – who are we to decide what is divine intervention or a stroke of fate? Fortunate or even amazing are better, or simply  “…have escaped unhurt.”

Mercy dash – avoid

Manhunt – in the USA perhaps, not the UK

Nationwide – a Building Society. You probably mean national

Non-payment of – failed to pay fines/debts etc

Normalise – American. Avoid

One of the only – this is meaningless. Think about it. It’s either the only, or one of the few

Only time will tell – cliche

Oust – sports reporter speak. Use remove, replace or sack

Participate – take part in

Probe – a medical or scientific term. Use investigate or inquiry

Plea  – journalese

Press conference – broadcasters attend news conferences. We are not the Press

Quiz – police rarely do this to suspects. “Alright Jones, what’s the capital of Paraguay?”

Race – fire engines, ambulances and police cars do not do this – “Race you to the robbery Sarge!” They may hurry, or even rush

Rear – police speak, as in “the suspects effected entry at the rear of the premises.” The officer means “they broke in at the back of the shop.”

Row – not every dispute, debate or argument, is a row

Robberies – avoid indicating approval with phrases such as ‘daring’ or ‘well-planned’. Carefully planned is acceptable

Rendered – it’s what you do to a wall. To people you give help, or simply help

Receive – we don’t receive a broken leg. Can it be sent through the post?

Suffered is much better, or simply “he broke his leg”.

Set to – overused

Shot in the arm – suggests drugs abuse. One story on the BBC spoke of an anti-drugs campaign receiving a shot in the arm! Try fillip, or extra funding

Spell out – cliché

Sufficient – enough

Sustained fatal injuries – died

Sweeping changes – cliché

Swoop – it’s what birds do, not the police

The – is the definite article and refers to a unique person or thing. So we have the England football captain David Beckham, but former England captain Gary Lineker

Top level – overused

Total – often redundant. what is the difference between total extinction differ from extinction

Trigger  –  Set off

Tragic murder – all murders are tragic

Unique – the only one of its kind. Nothing is quite unique

Utilise – use

Vehicle – hardly ever used in everyday speech excpet by police officers. Say car/bus/van/lorry

Vital – overused

Wed – journalese. Use marry

Widespread anxiety – cliché

Whirlwind tour – cliché

Walkabout – cliché


Former tabliod sub editor  Robert Hutton has produced an excellent account of journalese in his book, Romps, Tots and Boffins … The Strange Language of News .

He asks: “Where is drunken vandalism always a “booze-fuelled rampage?”
Where is everyone in uniform a “hero” and every thief “heartless”?
Where are market towns always “bustling” and villages “sleepy”?

Answer: In journalism.

Journalese is the language of news. It’s a strange language, a little like English. I’ve been working around native speakers for two decades, living as one of them and learning their ways, and in my book, Romps, Tots and Boffins – The Strange Language of News, I make their secrets available to the public for the first time. You don’t need to thank me.


He identifies a wide range of cliches including:

Acolytes Supporters of someone with whom we disagree.

Arcane Rules Ones we can’t be bothered to explain.

Brutal dictator One who kills his opponents slowly. If he just has them all shot, use ”ruthless dictator’’. If our government could easily ”topple him’’, but can’t be bothered, use ”tinpot dictator’’.

Budding Someone under 20 who’s good at something.

Clamour We’ve written two editorials about this. If there’s one in today, refer to a ”growing clamour’’.

Coffers Where organisations of which we disapprove keep money.

Considering The all-purpose unfalsifiable policy story. No one will ever be able to convincingly deny that they’ve considered something.

Deepened What happened to people’s difficulties last night.

Humiliating U-turn Any adjustment in policy.

Ill-fated Frankly, it was inevitable that anything that ”started as an innocent day out’’ would turn out to have ”ended in tragedy’’.

Influential Any group that can get a letter printed in a national paper.

Mystery surrounds In time, it may deepen. Right now, we don’t have a clue what’s going on.

Perfect storm Two bad things have happened to someone at the same time.

Potentially fatal Well, potentially. I mean, a peanut is potentially fatal.

Raft The standard unit of “measures”. Under the imperial system, a “cocktail of measures” is an eighth the size of a raft. A “whole raft of measures” is a raft plus a cocktail.

Red-faced What council chiefs usually are after a “humiliating U-turn” over parking charges.

Set to Sounds like it means ”will’’, but if it turns out the story is wrong, you can point out it only actually means ”may’’.

Special Investigation A normal investigation, but with a picture byline for the reporter.

Troubled Small country currently enjoying a lull between civil wars.

War-torn Anywhere foreign correspondents know a decent bar for every night of the week.

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