More Cliches Than You Can Shake a Stick At
  Compiled by Mimi Burkhardt


CLICHE: ``A trite expression or idea.''
     CLICHED: ``Trite; hackneyed.''
     -- American Heritage
      Some of these are classics. Others (niche cliches?) might more accurately be called newspaper or media jargon because you'll never see or hear thesephrases anywhere else. What normal person says ``densely wooded area'' or
``blueprint for growth'' in everyday -- or any -- conversation?
     This modest collection, more like a starter kit, comes from present and former colleagues, 40 years or reading, 20 years of editing, and the ACESdiscussion board. But of course it's just the tip of the iceberg. To coin a phrase.

     armed with a search warrant
     back to the drawing board/square one
     battle with cancer
     bid farewell
     blueprint for growth
     bottom line
     calls it quits
     carnival atmosphere
     changed his/her life forever
     charred rubble (which someone is often sifting or combing through in search of clues)
     choked with emotion
     cloudless sky
     concerned residents
     cope/deal with grief (``Counselors will be on hand to help students ...'')
     crisis proportions (see OVERKILL)
     densely wooded area
     dire straits
     (American) dream turns to nightmare
     drug-sniffing dogs
     early-morning hours
     emotional roller coaster
     epidemic proportions (see OVERKILL)
     every parent's worst nightmare
     final good-byes
     firestorm/storm of protest/controversy
     fled on foot
     ground zero
     hammer out (an agreement, contract)
     heated debate
     hushed courtroom
     in the wake of (unless you're writing about
     kick off (unless you're writing about
     laid to rest
     leafy suburb (and its cousin tree-lined
streets ¯)
     makeshift memorial
     manicured lawns
     media circus
     mixed reviews
     Mother Nature's wrath
     Olympic proportions
     outpouring of support
     packing xx-mph winds
     poster boy/girl/child
     predawn darkness
     rain fails to dampen (anything, but often
spirits at a parade or
     rushed to the hospital
     sent shock waves
     shallow grave
     shocked and saddened/dismayed
     showed no emotion
     sparked controversy
     square off
     step down (for resign)
     step up (efforts)
     struggling to make sense of (a tragedy)
     tense standoff
     tree-lined streets (especially quiet ones)
     voicing concern
     wait-and-see attitude
     wellspring of ...
     white stuff, the (usually dumped on a

     He/she/they knew something was terribly
wrong when...
     If xyz has his way, ....
     In what has become ...
     Move over, xxx.
     Plans for xyz took a step toward reality ...
     They are (he/she is) not alone.
     Welcome to ...
     What began as ... turned into...
     What he/she/they didn't know was that...
(well, duh ¯)

     storm-tossed (-ravaged, etc.)
     sun-drenched (-dappled)
     war-torn (-ravaged, etc.)
     crisis proportions
     crisis situation
     emergency situation
     epidemic proportions
     general consensus
     old adage
     rain showers
     sworn affidavit
     the fatal shooting death
     the drowning death
     strangled to death

     Schools to state: Show us the money

     Show us the money, the teachers' union

     Sweepless in Seattle

     Meatless in Monroe

     Jeepless in Seattle
     And the newest offenders: ``Final answer'';
``Who wants to (fill in the

* * * * * *

put together to use as a
handout (with full credit to ACES, of course!).
This is nowhere near everything
-- it's missing a lot of the sports-focused
entries, for example  -- and you
probably have it all in archives anyway, but I'm
sending it along in case it's

     There's the inevitable horror story
involving some heinous crime against a
child and the equally inevitable hed: EVERY
     And the ubiquitous holiday season hed: 'TIS
THE SEASON (at a previous
paper, the copy chief set a limit on the times
this would see print per year:
     STEPPED in ``the teams STEPPED UP
and played better'' or ``the
campaign has STEPPED UP its efforts.''
     SENDING A MESSAGE....I hate this one.
Everybody, it seems, is sending
messages. What kind of message does this act/this
decision) send? This act/this
decision will ``send the wrong message.'' What
ever happened to ``setting an
example'' or ``setting a bad example.''
     An old one but a terrible one: CALLS IT
QUITS. I never have heard a person
at a press conference at which they are resigning
say ``it's quits.''  What
about ``Smith resigns''?.....Also, why is it also
when somebody  quits, they
     Before they call it quits or step down, they
``kick off.'' Nothing just
starts or begins anymore.
     I'm with you. A United Way campaign STARTS,
it doesn't kickoff!!
     Here's one taken out of a lead recently here
- ``harken back to a more
innocent time.'' Two problems - harken back - and
even worse, the whole concept
of a more innocent time. anything more than 20
years ago was a ``more innocent
time.''  i recently read where the pre-AIDS era
was ``a more innocent time.''
yep, all those drugs, swingers' clubs and
unprotected sex with strangers -
sounds REAL innocent to me!
     It just gets worse: ``Harken back'' itself
is an error. The verb meaning to
revert to an earlier time is ``to hark back.''
``Harken,'' a variant spelling of
``hearken,'' means ``to listen carefully'' or
``to heed.'' Both verbs are so
dated that we should probably just remove them
from copy whenever they occur.
     How about every nickel-and-dime car accident
or other event being described
as something that ``changed their lives (or the
town or the cops) forever''?
it's unbelievably overused.
     maybe it's because i live in the seattle
area, but a number of papers here
seem irrationally infatuated with making endless
lead and headline puns on the
execrable movie ``sleepless in seattle.'' just
last week, a good eight years
after the flick's release, i read the headline
``meatless in monroe,'' about a
new vegetarian restaurant. and ``sweepless in
seattle,'' about a local sports
team's failure to sweep the season series against
an ostensibly lesser opponent.
and ``jeepless in seattle,'' from an advertorial
insert, about the decline in
Jeep (TM) sales in the last year here. isn't
there some state-mandated statute
of limitations on imitating bad movies?
     and in other movie cliches ... ``IF YOU
Management finally outlawed that particular gem
at a former workplace of mine.
      and let's not even talk about plays on
      In Arizona some of us on the copy desk
loved ``Raising Arizona'' plays
(and that's a 13-year-old movie!) I wrote two
myself, I'm somewhat ashamed to
say: ``Grazing Arizona'' and ``Raving Arizona.''
     what about... ``in the wake of''? ``In the
wake of the Columbine massacre''
is the most common, with ``massacre'' being
overused as well. But I've seen this
phrase in stories on every topic possible. The
only thing in the wake of
something else had better be in the water.