What not to say

Nobody is going to be interested in work for the next week — it’s spring break!  So, instead of parsing English grammatical constructions, today I’m pointing you toward this week’s post on jimromenesko.com about words and phrases to avoid  in your writing.  (Apologies if you’ve already been through this list in Craft. And if you’re not reading Romenesko daily, you should be.)

This list, compiled at The Washington Post, includes some of the most overused words in journalism, like iconic. Some phrases are lazy transitions — for example, to be sure, or TK is not alone. (A variation: This is not the first time . . . as in, from The New York Times, This is not the first time they have called for impeachment.) Some are just cliches, like predawn raid (“in journalism, all raids are predawn”) or stinging rebuke (ditto).

A few are American pop culture references that may have international students scratching their heads. Mr. TK goes to Washington is a play on “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the 1939 Frank Capra film about populism and politics. The origins of  Yes, Virginia, there is a TK may be found by clicking here. It’s an American classic, but classics often morph into cliches over time. Silver bullet may refer to anti-werewolf weaponry or “The Lone Ranger”; if you don’t know the old TV series, there’s a new movie coming this summer.

I didn’t see two of my favorites on the list: see and spend.

From a student: The trade deficit has narrowed over the last year but may see an increase if the U.S. economy keeps recovering.

Deficits can’t see — nor can any number of other inanimate or abstract nouns. Better:

The trade deficit has narrowed over the last year but may see an increase if the U.S. economy keeps recovering.

From The Times: Stephen King has written almost 50 novels in his career, and every single one has spent time on the best-seller list.

Inanimate objects like books don’t spend time. How about:

 . . .and every single one has been on the best-seller list.

The writer was probably trying to find a stronger verb than to be,  but  simplicity trumps cliche every time.

In a few years, you’ll no doubt be making lists like this of your own. For now, clip, save and  consult this one in the second half of the semester.

With this entry, English for Journalists goes dark until around April 5, when Friday office hours resume. Enjoy your break!







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