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Clichés, bad metaphors, similes and other news traps

"Writing is the flip side of sex – it’s only good when it’s over." Hunter S. Thompson

To be sure, the late great HST remains one of my favorite writers - a master of figurative language and the guru of gonzo journalism. He could describe a person, event or place with cutting grit. Yet, he used his clichés , metaphors and similes rather sparingly. His greatest vice, among so many truer vices, was a relentless drive to rebel with words and casual rage. From the moment I first read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was hooked.

Thompson's writing remains proof that you don't need lazy hooks and dated language to engage readers or listeners. In fact, those traps help perpetuate the white noise behind today's vast streams and channels of information.

A tradesperson develops pride in their ability to work on a project, figuring out and crafting away until they reach a certain level of satisfaction. We should expect the same from all who work with words. Description adds life with words, pauses and structure and defines situations as worthy of journaling and sharing.

I've been fortunate enough, as a reporter and managing editor, to have worked with many creative, crafty writers. I've also worked with dolts. But from my time with some of the best, I've compiled a very short list of some of the worst words and phrases rejected by the best writers, broadcasters and communicators.

Time to share:

Bullets flying; Never does this help any news story. Bullets are shot out of a gun, they don't have wings and quite frankly, if many of them were shot in different directions, the tone of the story wouldn't warrant 'bullets flying.'

Broad daylight; What does broad even mean in this context? Is it a measurement in relation to partial daylight or focused daylight? It's time to put this one to rest.

Mercury (for temperatures); My meteorologist friends might not like this but today's thermometers don't use mercury. When I hear this one, I think of a rusted pop sign thermometer held with a busted nail on the side of an old wooden barn. Certainly, we can talk about temperatures rising without referring to the mercury - again, it's old.

Mother nature; She must be an evil woman because she gets blamed for far too many things. Mother nature, mother nature, mother nature. There are other ways to refer to natural events that sound more up to date.

Off the shelves; Or more specifically - flying off the shelves. It's the often repeated phrase when there is a shortage of items. It's just not that descriptive or original.

Scene from a movie; Or, like a scene from a movie. This simile gets tossed around to describe unusual actions resulting in dangerous situations. Car chases, explosions, shootings, earthquakes or large fires are common sources. Real life deserves better than comparisons to fiction. Overused. Lazy.

Shaker (earthquake); Sometimes it gets tough looking for another word for earthquake on a second or third reference. Shaker just never seems right to me - although it makes me smile. Unlike a Bond martini, I like my news stirred not shaken. Try quake or the pronoun 'it' instead.

Tragedy; Everything is a fucking tragedy in news. Knowing the line between happenstance and outright tragedy makes this word dangerous. I would be more cautious here.

White stuff; Again, it's another weather cliché . It's simply overused for snow. That said, I love it for cocaine.

If you're reading this, you likely have your own over used and greatly despised words or phrases. To avoid more dark and stormy writing, I'd love to hear yours.

1 Comment

Great pro-tips. I likely used two or three of these this month, or even this week. Certainly, during a frantic and deadline driven script writing session, I will use them again. Shameful

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