wordsFrom the dawn of language to today’s ultra-fast technology culture, words have always mattered. For marketers, word usage influences how concepts are perceived and how behaviors are driven. For better or for worse, marketers have become married to certain words and phrases – and for some reason, they feel obligated to use them over and over again. The better part of this marriage is that it’s easy because it’s a cookie cutter. But the worst part is that certain repetitive phrases have lost market value over the years and are now no more than empty statements.

A recent New York Times article, Words We Love Too Much, points out that the use of clichés are sinful and regularly frowned upon in the newsroom. In fact, journalists are always actively looking to identify thoughtless words and phrases that not only add little value, but have proven to be “played out.” Why? Because a journalist knows that her readers are smart. Just as journalists connect with audiences with thoughtful writing, marketers need to better connect with consumers with meaningful content.

Here’s a good indication of how important this is: The Washington Post keeps a running list of words to avoid. To be honest, we’ve all been guilty of using them. And while 150 have been identified like using the word “imagine” as the first word in your lede or the phrase “time will tell if… ” the top 25 list below covers a good pool of phrases we should, at least, use sparingly moving forward.

  1. At first glance (or worse, “at first blush”)
  2. As a nation (or worse, “as a society”)
  3. Upon deeper reflection (why not reflect deeply from the start?)
  4. Observers (unless referring to people actually sitting around watching something)
  5. [Person] is not alone (from anecdote to generalization, we get it)
  6. And [someone/something] is no exception
  7. Pundits say (or “critics say”)
  8. The American people (unless in a quote)
  9. The narrative (unless referring to a style of writing)
  10. Probe (an uncomfortable substitute for “investigation”)
  11. Opens/offers a rare window (unless it is a real window that is in fact unusual)
  12. Begs the question (unless used properly – and so rarely used properly that it’s not worth the trouble)
  13. Be that as it may
  14. If you will (actually, I won’t)
  15. A cautionary tale
  16. Needless to say (then don’t say it)
  17. Suffice it to say (if it suffices, then just say it)
  18. This is not your father’s [anything]
  19. [Anything] 2.0 (or 3.0, or 4.0…)
  20. At a crossroads (unless referring to an actual intersection)
  21. The powers that be
  22. Outside the box (describes creative thinking — with a cliche)
  23. A favorite Washington parlor game
  24. Yes, Virginia, there is a [something]
  25. Christmas came early for [someone]