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Don’t throw the Baby out with the Bathwater

by Bonnie Chomica

I’ll bet you use clichés all the time, without even thinking. Or colloquial phrases, or slang expressions. They roll off our tongue, or our keyboard, because we think they portray a more colourful message. But in reality, they may actually be killing your marketing message.


Cliché in the Dictionary


Clichés – noun:

“a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.”


Essentially, clichés are stale and boring, and often confuse people, rather than making your point.


Although I’m focusing on clichés in this post, the same goes for colloquial language which includes slang, turns-of-phrase, even abbreviations, and acronyms. They’re used for a more conversational tone, but your audience might not get what you’re trying to say.


Why You Shouldn’t Use Clichés


We are lazy in our language, and often take the easiest route. But, consider that some audiences may not ‘get’ what you’re trying to say with your cliché, and therefore will leave your email, blog post, or social media site.


Some people that may not understand your cliché include:


Scanners – people who scan through text looking for keywords, bullets, and clear meaning to get the information they want. They may stumble on your cliché, and if they have to stop and think about what you’re saying, they will likely not finish your message.


Different Generations – many clichés have typically been around for generations, long before even Gen X, Gen Y, and Millennials came along. Many clichés may appear unfamiliar to them. And vice versa as those younger generations come up with their own ‘language’, us Baby Boomers don’t easily grasp the meanings.


English As a Second Language (ESL) – there are many foreign people living and working in my English-speaking world. They are challenged with our difficult language already, without having to figure out the hidden meaning behind a cliché, or local slang.


Business Clichés to Avoid


Our daily lives are full of clichés. In business, they’re used very often, when a more suitable explanation would make a stronger impact. Remember, your reader may not understand your intention.


I used to work for a company where the boss liked to use the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” After working on a project that maybe didn’t go so well, his meaning was to not eliminate something good while at the same time trying to get rid of something bad. In other words, let’s repeat the successes of the project, and get rid of what didn’t work.


At the time, I wasn’t sure what the phrase meant. Whenever he said it all I could envision was this poor baby flying through the air and I never really got the gist of the boss’s message.


Following are some of the most colourful business clichés. Picture someone who doesn’t know any of these terms. Imagine their brow scrunching up, as they try to visualize, or decipher what you are trying to say. That’s what can happen when someone takes the saying literally. I’ve also offered how you could say or write the saying so any audience could understand.


Don’t Drink the Koolaid

Literal: What’s wrong with the Koolaid in the coffee room? (origin – Jim Jones mass suicide drinking the Koolaid)

Better: If their actions don’t agree with your values, or don’t hold up in an argument, don’t get involved with them.


Open the Kimono

Literal: I just bought office-appropriate attire, now you want me to expose myself in a kimono?

Better: Let’s reveal all of our concepts, and don’t hold back any information. No secrets.


Low Hanging Fruit

Literal: We’re picking fruit now? What kind of fruit?

Better: These are the prospects which will be easiest to sell to.


Bite the Bullet

Literal: That would be pretty bad for my teeth, and besides, where would I get one.

Better: Make a decision to move forward, even though it might be difficult, or unpleasant.


Don’t Burn Your Bridges

Literal: I’m sure I won’t. That sounds very dangerous.

Better: Don’t treat people nasty, because they may be your next boss, or ally.

And there are more:


Think outside the box

There is a box, what box?


Put all your eggs in one basket

Are we selling eggs? Where is the basket?


In a nutshell

We’re packaging things in nutshells?


And still more…

· take it to the next level

· win-win situation

· at the end of the day

· giving 100%

· strike while the iron is hot

· no brainer

· turn-key solution

· beat a dead horse

· everything from soup to nuts


And let’s not forget sport-related clichés.

· Par for the course

· The Ball is in your court

· Down to the wire

· Step up to the plate

· We’ve got them on the ropes


The Bottom Line


Ha ha! See what I did there? That subtitle was a cliché. Better, would be “Write for Clarity” or “Do you get what I mean?”. See how easy it is for them to just show up. This past week, I’ve heard them on the radio, TV news casts, advertisements, and social media, just to name a few.


Using clichés makes you look lazy, and reflects on your ability to deliver original, creative content. Take the time to say exactly what you mean, and you’ll make a deeper connection with your audience. Make your content easier to consume, so that people can get to know, like, and trust you, and get closer to buying from you.


Do you know of other clichés or saying, that drive you crazy, or are funny to interpret?

I'd love to see them in the comments.


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