Paying the piper Featured

9:46am EDT July 22, 2002

One of the first things that students learn in a writing or journalism class is to avoid using clichés and jargon in their writing.

Unfortunately for us writers, we are bombarded with both on an almost daily basis by people who are determined, it seems, to help us fall from grace.

Covering business exposes us to lots of clichés and jargon, both spoken and in press releases, that grow ragged with overuse. It should come as no surprise that these are most often used when companies or their public relations agents are attempting to get our attention. Ironically, they usually end up shooting themselves in the foot. Whoops!

Here are the ones we hear most often:

  • We’re a unique company. Unique should be stricken from the English language. Despite the fact that they know it drives us nuts, or maybe because it does, public relations and marketing writers continue to use this word. A letter to us is almost certain to hit the trash can if you use it.

  • We are doing a lot of interesting things. Interesting to whom? If you want to increase your chances of getting our attention, ask yourself the hard questions before we do. Who would want to hear this story? Why would anyone care about what you’re doing?

  • We’ve been in business for (10, 20, 100) years. Quite frankly, the length of time a company has been in business is of only passing interest to most people, let alone us. We might be interested, though, in how you managed to stay in business. But don’t mention the following as one of the reasons:

  1. We exceed our customers’ expectations. That’s good, but why is it that so many businesses disappoint me? I just want to go away feeling like I got my money’s worth. Besides, I haven’t met anyone who ever said, “Our customer service isn’t too good.”

  2. It’s a win-win. We’ve been laughing up our sleeves for a couple of years at this one. I don’t know too many people who would say, for publication at least, that they beat the pants off the other guy. And most of us find it hard to admit that we got a bad deal. Besides, we’ve seen too many win-wins degrade quickly into lose-lose.

  3. It’s a win-win-win. In an attempt to outdo the win-winners, there are those who insist on finding a third party to win with.

    Of course, not every catch phrase is dismissed so lightly by us. In fact, when an expression reaches wide familiarity, we can put it to work for us. I took advantage of “Show me the money,” coined by a character in the movie “Jerry Maguire,” when I came up with “Show me the service,” the headline for my column last month.

    I used “Only in Amarraca” as the headline for my December 1999 column. In fact, in my never-ending quest to be clever, I often try turning the common expression on its head.

So while I tire of hearing them, I suppose I’ll have to tolerate them for my own good. In the end, I suppose, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Ray Marano, associate editor of SBN, spends much of his time trying educate SBN’s readers and exceeding their expectations. We could say it’s a real win-win. But we won’t. Reach him at rmarano@sbnnet.com.