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Blog Editing Pro Tip: Don’t Let Cliches and Idioms Get Out of Hand

Date published: July 01, 2013
Last updated: July 1, 2013

“Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” —attributed to Samuel Johnson

Unless you’re blogging about something that’s intensely personal, you aren’t the only one blogging about that subject. And even then, a post about your childbirth experience, your struggle with cancer, or your frustration with Microsoft joins a large and ever-growing army of bloggers writing about similar situations.

With so much competition, the only way to get your blog noticed is by offering something that other blogs don’t. Something creative and original. Something better.

Hacking through the Hackneyed

This isn’t news to you, though. You’ve written from unexpected viewpoints, created witty infographics, and recorded hours of video to try to give your readers something unique. But the idea of uniqueness can (and should) extend beyond topics, points of view, and superfluous cosmetic widgetry and all the way down to individual phrases.

Editing tip: Make your content more memorable and interesting by replacing clichés and idioms with creative, original phrases.

The line between idiom and cliché can be blurry, so to make sure we’re all on the same page, here’s the long and short of it:

  • Idioms are phrases that have unique internal grammar or whose meanings can’t be derived from the definitions of their constituent parts — being “on the same page,” explaining “the long and short of it” and letting things “get out of hand” are all examples of idioms.
  • Clichés are unoriginal, overused phrases or expressions, such as “the line between X and Y can be blurry” and waking up “bright and early” after “sleeping like a baby.”

Idioms earn their title from frequent use; clichés are, by definition, unoriginal. So why, if you want your blog to shine brighter than everyone else’s, would you want to rely on the same turns of phrase everyone else uses?

Obliterating clichés and idioms sounds simple enough, but they’re so ingrained that it takes an especially close and careful reading to weed them out find, and remove them. They’re shortcuts we use when we speak and write, and we use them so often that we forget the original path they bypassed. They can be especially ornery on blogs, the majority of which rely on a conversational tone.

But a blog post is not an extemporaneous conversation. Expect more from your writing.

Big-Lame Hunting

The joy of the cliché hunt or idiom safari is that once you target your prey, you can flex your creativity in order to kill and replace it. You can breed your own metaphors or, like a mad gene-splitting clarinetist, splice together unexpected similes. You can connect common things in uncommon ways. Also, you can let loose your life-long love of alliteration.

Even if it comes out clown-stabbingly silly, it will be memorable. It will be creative and original — what so many others are not.

There is a fine line, of course, between wit and disruption, and it’s easy to stray over. If your attempts to display your wit take you too far from the point of your writing too often, you’re just wasting your reader’s time. Finding the balance between your creative skills and your readers’ tolerance can prove a challenge. But the more you read and the more you write, the clearer that line will become.

To echo what I’ve written in previous posts, you won’t eliminate all your clichés and idioms, nor should you try. Clichés can be like comfort food for the reader, especially if the text around it has taken them into unfamiliar territory. Sometimes a cliché (or a slightly altered version of it) is just what a sentence needs, but it—like every word in a post—should be left there deliberately, not through negligence.

What makes your writing unique? Tell us in the comments.

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