Home Newspapers 11th hour probe launched into clichés amidst shocking revelations

11th hour probe launched into clichés amidst shocking revelations

11th hour probe launched into clichés amidst shocking revelations

Salvador Dalí, the Spanish surrealist painter, was reputed to have said ‘The first man to compare the cheeks

The French writer and poet Gérard de Nerval, who died in 1855, may have unintentionally defined a cliché when he said ‘The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet; the second, an imbecile.’

of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot’, though something like this was first coined by the French poet Gérard de Nerval. What Dali was getting at was that a phrase can be striking at first but when overused it loses its force.

And when an expression or idea, which at some earlier time was considered meaningful or novel, is overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, then it becomes a cliché, a ready-made phrase. In private or informal conversation they are used all the time: ’24/7′, ‘absolutely’, ‘actually’, ‘at the end of the day’, ‘basically’, ‘I hear what you’re saying’, ‘if the truth be told’, ‘I’m not being funny but’, ‘it’s not rocket science’, ‘literally’, ‘no problem’, ‘the fact of the matter is’, ‘to be perfectly honest’, ‘you know what I mean’. Clichés pop up everywhere: in the supermarket, in soap operas, in fashion, in sport, on dating websites, on book covers, with art critics and travel writers. And in organisations, the close cousins of the cliché, the jargon and gibberish of ‘corporate speak’, is omnipotent.

Though clichés should be avoided, in reality they’re not. The language of Britain is the language of cliché. The British people could speak in cliché till the cows come home. And it is in journalism where clichés stick out like a sore thumb.

They may be part of a seemingly unchangeable news culture, and we may like them, and they can be descriptive, but clichés show a lack of originality. And they’re not just over-used phrases. They can be used to disguise a lack of information, as padding, or as a code or euphemism to imply something that can’t be said or which can be left to us to work out. They are often cynical, and sometimes comical. Above all journalists want their stories to be more exciting, meaningful or profound than they really are. So, cynical or not, here’s some reading between the lines …


According to published reports We got scooped
Allegedly We know he did it but we have to protect our backs
Clamour We’ve written an editorial. If we write about it again, refer to a ‘growing clamour
Considering The all-purpose unfalsifiable policy story as in ‘the Minister is considering whether to ditch the policy’. No one will ever be able to convincingly deny that they’re considering something
Couldn’t be reached for comment The reporter didn’t call until after 5pm
Deepened What happened to people’s difficulties last night
Exclusive We were the only ones who returned the press office calls
Exclusive neighbourhood/school/club The reporter couldn’t get in
Influential Any group that can get a letter printed in a national paper, or someone who has appeared on television twice in one week
Informed source Reads the newspaper
Momentum is building The story hasn’t changed since last night
Mystery surrounds Tomorrow the mystery might ‘deepen‘ but right now, we don’t have a clue what’s going on
Outpouring of support, emotion We are with them, so long as things don’t get out of hand
Reportedly We stole this bit of information
Set to Might mean ‘will’, but if it turns out the story is wrong, you can say it only actually means ‘may’
Shocking revelation Leaked on a slow news day
Special investigation A normal investigation, but with a picture by-line for the reporter
Stunned Couldn’t give a decent quote
Uncertain, unclear, unknown No one will tell us
Uproar The reaction of the ‘Great British Public‘ to a mindless tweet
Well placed source Someone who will talk to us


About turn Any change of mind. May be followed by ‘it’s back to the drawing board
Activist Will talk to the press
Acolytes Supporters of someone with whom we disagree.
Arcane rules Ones we can’t be bothered to explain
Bolthole Place where a disgraced MP (or rock star) seeks refuge from the media. Never a house, flat or hotel room
Brutal dictator One who kills his opponents slowly. If he just had them all shot, use ‘ruthless dictator‘. If our government could easily ‘topple him‘, but can’t be bothered, use ‘tinpot dictator‘.
Concerned residents Residents usually are
Draconian The Government is proposing something with which we disagree
Embattled He/she should quit
Family values Right wing idiot (also Progressive Left wing idiot)
Hard-working people As opposed to everyone who hasn’t a job, except pensioners of course
Humiliating U-turn Any adjustment in policy, especially over parking charges
Landmark decision Not sure why, but that’s what the other papers are saying
Moderate Fence-sitter
Parking expose Editor got a parking ticket
Raft The standard unit of ‘measures‘. Under the imperial system, a ‘cocktail of measures
Red-faced What council ‘bosses‘ usually are after a ‘humiliating U-turn
Troubled Small country currently enjoying a lull between civil wars
Trusted source An MP out for revenge or a government stooge, but often someone vaguely connected with politics in a Westminster bar
Venerable Should be dead but isn’t


Celebrity He/she has a publicist (also Superstar He/she has a publicist and an agent)
Intensely private Not promoting anything right now (also Rarely interviewed Promoting something right now)
Screen legend Reporter is too young to remember his/her movies
Teen idol Reporter is too old to have heard of him/her
Legendary About to die
She cut a lonely figure Runs away from the paparazzi
Supermodel Her picture was printed somewhere
Tearful Could have been crying
Weeping A tear in one eye

Crime & Tragedy

Bubbly How friends described the victim. She may also have ‘loved life
Close knit community A small town or village where there’s been an incident and where everyone is in shock
Drunken yobs Men who go on ‘booze-fuelled rampages
Facing charges They haven’t been charged with a crime, they may never be charged with a crime, but they might possibly be charged with one.
Hushed courtroom Any courtroom when the judge is sitting
Ill-fated Anything that ‘started as an innocent day out‘ is bound to have ‘ended in tragedy
Inferno What was a fire in the first paragraph, is a blaze in the second, becomes an inferno in the third
Innocent bystanders The people who look on in horror when bad things happen. If injured themselves, they become ‘innocent victims‘, to distinguish them from the victims who pretty much had it coming
Loner No one predicted he’d go on a killing spree. According to neighbours he ‘kept himself to himself‘ (also a Jekyll and Hyde character)
Potentially fatal A peanut is potentially fatal
Probe launched Not NASA but something the police do when there’s been an embarrassing leak
Rushed The only way anyone gets to hospital, typically after ambulances ‘raced to the scene
Savagely murdered Murdered
Scandal-plagued Definitely guilty
Split second It happened quickly
Troubled youth Arsonist

Work & Business

Boffin Anyone with a science job or who wears a lab coat
Budding Someone under 20 who’s good at something
Champagne lifestyle As in someone who ‘plundered bank accounts to fund
Coffers Where organisations of which we disapprove keep money
Eleventh hour The time at which one should start expecting ‘last-ditch‘ negotiations
Entrepreneur Hasn’t made it yet, but we’re doing a nice story about him
Green shoots What appears first in an economic recovery, but make sure someone else says it first
Mogul Has made it, and we’re doing a hatchet job (also Mega-Mogul Has made it, and is in process of losing it)
Olympic proportions Quite large
State-of-the-art Quite new, no possible use, had lunch with the creator/inventor


Beloved Been around so long no one can stand them any more
Big personality Envied by some but we think they’re obnoxious (also ‘larger than life‘)
Bon viveur Drunk
Clash Two people disagreeing
Calculated snub The worst possible kind of snub (also Snub A polite refusal)
Carnival atmosphere A few people were jolly, and the sun came out
Controversial We don’t know why it’s so long ago, but if they’re harmless use ‘colourful‘ character
Dapper He hasn’t bought new clothes in 20 years
Effervescent She won’t shut up
Highbrow Boring
Long-time companion They had sex
Outspoken Rude man
Strident Rude woman
Prestigious award An award
Self-styled Phony, as in guru
Street-wise Hasn’t been hit by a bus so far
Unsung heroes Never heard of them until they were spotted in a local paper

The Weather

Britain hit by Arctic Blast It is cold because it is winter
Britain braced for We are unprepared as usual and it will be chaos (also ‘gritting its teeth‘)
Transport chaos Slight difficulty on the roads due to the weather. Not the same as congestion which can be far worse.
Widespread disruption What happens when commuters to Woking are delayed at Waterloo for forty minutes (also ‘passengers stranded‘)
Misery What disruption on the railways causes
Perfect storm Two bad things have happened at the same time
River are bursting their banks Rivers never just overflow
After an earlier accident As opposed to the accident which has yet to happen?

In an article on The Independent website in June 2011, here, John Rentoul listed 100 banned clichéd words and phrases, and invited readers to send in their own suggestions. At the end of the article, Rentoul says that the original Banned List was George Orwell’s, referring to his essay Politics and the English Language published in 1946, here. In the essay Orwell listed his banned words, as well as six rules, the first of which was:

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech
which you are used to seeing in print

Is it still possible today to follow this rule? I think it would be very difficult. Orwell said of his rules that to follow them would ‘demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable’.

Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent for The Independent rails against clichés and jargon every so often. But they have a more sobering effect when used by journalists in reporting about war and its impact, as Fisk explains here.


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