19 Dec 2019

Journalism clichés we'd like to stamp out

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When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC, igniting a civil war that ultimately led to the creation of the Roman Empire, it’s unlikely he expected his actions would become the basis for an overused (and frequently misused) expression.

Crossing the Rubicon and its equally despicable cousin, passing the point of no return, are part of the vast collection of clichés found in contemporary journalism.

According to the Economist’s Style Guide, these clichés “numb, rather than stimulate the reader’s brain.”

So, we’re setting out to eradicate these parasites and we want your help!

George Orwell wrote: “Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority … killed by the jeers of a few journalists.”

We have compiled a list of phrases we would like to see kept off the page, airwaves and screen, and we want you to add the words and phrases you find most irritating. Together we can collectively mock them out of circulation.

Please Tweet your most hated phrases to @JN_Institute and we will add them below.

This is our list

Updated December 24, 2019.

Back to the future Great movies. Awful cliché.

Battleground electorates A cliché that proves Clausewitz’s lesser-known rule that politics is the continuation of a whole bunch of tired war or sporting metaphors. See also political football.

Blood and treasure Falls into the “I want to be really dramatic, but actually come across as really pompous” category. See also war torn.

Brutal dictatorship A tautology that really means this is a despotic regime too difficult to overthrow right now.

Bunkering down See also hunkering down.

Chatham House Rules There is actually only one rule.

Crossed the Rubicon Has been said so many times that there is now a freeway built across it.

Exclusive An overused noun. See also revelation and coup.

Fake news Applied to whatever you say that I do not like. See also virtue signalling.

Fighting for life Some patients may find battle metaphors empowering, but they can be insensitive and unhelpful.

Ill-fated In hindsight, it wasn’t a very good idea.

In a bid to Never used in conversation. "I ate lunch in a bid to avoid hunger."

Only time will tell A stock phrase used by lazy journalists to wrap up a story or package.

On the brink The point immediately before we do something really stupid. See also tipping point.

Passed away An unnecessary euphemism. See also demise and deceased.

Progressing Used as a verb by management consultants to mean “you need to pay us a lot for not doing very much.” It has been adopted by journalists to make their writing sound more technical.

Raft of legislation If you can't paddle it down a river, you probably shouldn't call it a raft.

Shrouded in secrecy Intelligence agencies stopped using shrouds around 1873. We should do the same with this tired cliché.

Slammed Pro wrestlers slam their opponents. Normal people criticise. See also shirtfront.

Tsunami There has been a tsunami of tsunami metaphors.

Unprecedented Anything that hasn’t been mentioned in consecutive issues of The New York Times.

Unsung heroes We need to stop using this because most journalists are not very good singers.

Working families An ambiguous term used excessively by Kevin Rudd during the 2007 election campaign to appeal to voters with modest incomes. See also quiet Australians.