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Why Would You Get Hit By a Bus? (And other uses of cliches)

J0178843 Today must have been the day for buses.  On at least three occasions, I read the phrase, "In case I get hit by a bus."  My mother used to tell me that.  Only she added that I had to be sure to be wearing clean underwear just in case.

I commented to my husband that I was reading a lot of cliches lately.  He asked me, "Why do people think they would get hit by a bus?  Why not get hit by a bicycle?  Or a food truck?  Why a bus?"  I didn't have the answer. I did think it was a good question.  But I really didn't have an answer.

Which got me to thinking:  why do people use so many cliches?  A cliche, for example, is saying, "bless you" every time someone sneezes.  Do you really mean God should jump off that comfy couch in the sky and personally bless you?  Do you pay any attention deep down inside when someone says "bless you" in response to your sneeze?  No.  You don't.  You say, "Thank you" to be polite. The exchange is done and frankly, immediately forgotten.

It's the same when using cliches as you write.  In business communications, readers do not pay attention to cliches.  The mind, having seen the phrase so many times, is desensitized. It skips right over the phrase, sometimes ignoring it completely.  If you want people in your firm to pay attention and think that you are a leader, you're going to have to change the way you write.

Here are my four biggest cliche peeves:

1. Enclosed please find.  Now, really.  Would you talk this way?  Would you actually walk into a partner's office, hand him or her a file and say, "Enclosed please find"?  I doubt it.  Write the way you talk.  It's much better to say, "I am attaching a copy of the blankblank."

2.    Please don't hesitate to call.  Practically all letters explaining anything ends with this boring phrase.  Would someone hesitate to call if they had a question?  Nope.  Not in this day and age of instant response.  It's much better to say……….nothing.

3. As you know.  This is dangerous.  You are making an assumption that the reader must certainly know about the issue you are about to discuss.  What if they don't?  All you have accomplished is to point out how ignorant they are.  They may feel uncomfortable.  "Gee," they think.  "I should have known that." Or, "Wow.  Someone is leaving me out of the loop."  Instead of your reader appreciating your communication, now they are not feeling so great about what they have just read.  Hmmm….not exactly the goal.

4.   If you will.  This cliche started about 10 – 15 years ago. I don't know who started it but if I see them, I am going to lodge my complaint –  in writing.  I can't think of another phrase that emphasizes uncertainty or that questions your confidence.  "If you will?" If you will what?  I hear that dang phrase on the radio almost every day. All this phrase does is to undermine any strong statement you make, if you will.

That's only four of thousands of cliches. I have a list. My suggestion is: if you're going to use a cliche, use one that is more recent - like, "voted off the island."  Yeah.  I like that.

PS: For a paralegal webinar on The Brave New Writer: Using Corporate Storytelling to Achieve Leadership, go to www.knowparalegal.com.  

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