Avoid Cliches Like The Plague

May 11, 2011

The average person knows 10,000 words in the English language.

Though the way we blog sometimes, it seems like we know about 100 words.

We get in these little word ruts.  We find some words and phrases we like.  Then we use them ad nauseum until no one can stand us anymore.  For example, I can’t stand McDonald’s commercials…any of them.  I don’t think the McDonald’s corporation can produce one advertisement that doesn’t make me want to bulldoze the nearest McDonald’s.

And that’s what we do when we use cheap, trite, or overused words.  We become McDonald’s commercials.

Today, I’m here to help you clean up your act when it comes to blogging, tweeting, commenting, Facebooking, or whatever you do, with my countdown of words and phrases that have got to go.  Because I guarantee that if you use too many of these words too many times, I will cut off all online contact with you until you shape up.

“Game Changer”

Bad blogger!  Bad!  Stop it!  Don’t call one more thing a “game changer.”

Talk about a worthless cliche.  We used to call “game changers” just “cheaters.”  Now it roughly translates: “What I am about to say and / or do is so magnificent and noteworthy, that the orbit of the earth will actually pause momentarily while seven billion people soil themselves in sheer ecstasy and wonderment of me.”

If you are married, think about your wedding day.  It was really important to you, a few other people, and no one else.  It was a blip on everyone’s radar.  (If you aren’t married, think about how unimportant every wedding day has been for you.)  “Game changers” are the same way.  There are hundreds of “game changers” tweeted every hour, and no one really cares.  The “game” goes on, unchanged.

If you use this phrase, the only thing that might get changed is your face…by my fist.  I call my fist the “face changer.”

“Influential,” “Relevant,” or “Dynamic”

If you use any of these words to describe yourself in your blog bio or Twitter profile, then I will assume you have absolutely no real credentials whatsoever, because you are resorting to extremely vague and generic descriptors for yourself.

Guess what?  I will decide if you are “influential,” “relevant,” or “dynamic.”  If you are influential, I will buy whatever junk you are selling.  If you are relevant, I will care about your asinine opinions.  If you are dynamic, I will say to myself, “Holy crap, this guy is dynamic!” But you have to prove you are dynamic…like, by riding on a unicycle…while on fire…or something.  Hey, when you use words that have no definition, I get to make it up.

Bonus points for referring to yourself in the third person while describing yourself with these words.  And by “points,” I again mean punches to the face.

“Social Media Expert”

There are hundreds of people on Twitter calling themselves “social media experts” or “social media strategists.”  Who gives out diplomas recognizing “expertise” on Facebook?  Is there an “expert” sticker you get for beating Farmville?  Can Farmville even be beaten?  Know who’s a real “social media expert?”  Mark Zuckerberg.  Because he actually made a billion dollars off of social media.  The rest of us are just his pawns and playthings.

Oh, and while we’re on tech-speak, stop calling things “Whatever-This-Thing-Is 2.0.” Unless you want to try my new program, “Slap to the Face 2.0.” (It’s pretty much the same program as version 1.0, but with two slaps instead of one.)


That’s right, I’m tired of the word “vision,” which is the most cited, most trumpeted, most central component to any church “strategy,” to create “paradigm shifts,” or whatever they are trying to do.  Most of the time, having a church “vision” is just a nice sounding way to get members to fall in line with what the pastor wants to do.  This is what is maddeningly referred to in the business world as “synergy.”  All the little cogs, er, workers in their places.

I just don’t think that’s what the Bible means by having “visions.”

Okay, your turn!  Tell us what words and phrases need to be retired forever, lest you slap the person nearest you in utter despair!

57 responses to Avoid Cliches Like The Plague

  1. Hi Matt,

    As a social media expert, John Cowart has to proclaim this post a real game changer which will increase your influential and relevant status in the dynamic world of the blogosphere as you spread your vision to create a paradigm shift in Fisting 2.2 while holding a BigMac in one hand and a mouse in the other.

    Enjoy your Happy Meal.

    John Cowart, King Of Geriatric Geeks

  2. I am glad we’re on the same page about this! (That’s my contribution to cliches that need to be retired.)
    Glynn recently posted..Throw Out the Marketing Campaign

  3. “off the chain” What in the world does that express?

  4. “Off the hook!” “Never seen before.” “This will change your life.”

  5. I always wonder why so many people who claim to be social media experts post such boring tweets. You’d think posting interesting tweets would be one of the minimum requirements for being a social media expert.

    “Movement”- it seems like every Christian book, cause, event or study series is a movement these days. Just because there is some small groups studying your material or people posting about your cause on their facebook page doesn’t mean you actually have a movement on your hands. Real movements happen when people get passionate about something and unite, not when your marketing has worked well enough to get a few people’s attention.

    “Life-changing”- If every conference or event that claimed to be life-changing really was for everyone that attended, a lot of Christians should be close to perfect by now given how many “life-changing” conferences and events they’ve attended. Yes, sometimes people do experience significant turning points at events but it isn’t how things usually work. Most spiritual growth comes slowly through the day to day spiritual disciplines rather than dramatically. I have known Christians who seem to assume that they could rely on God touching them powerfully at an upcoming event so didn’t really need to work on sanctification now. Also, unfortunately what feels like life change straight after an event is sometimes just a mix of enthusiasm, adrenaline and sleep deprivation, leaving people disappointed when the “change” doesn’t stick.
    Joanna recently posted..Book review- Worldliness

  6. I am really, really tired of being told to “join the conversation” at this or that blog/church/college/coffee bar etc. This was a stimulating phrase 8 years ago, but it’s still being used like someone came up with it yesterday and is real proud of it. STOP.
    David N. recently posted..The Sword of the Lord Review and Giveaway

  7. I know this doesn’t count as a cliche, but if I see any post or article with “Should Christians…?” in the title, I decide to skip it. Some of these articles may be good, too, but it implies the reader is going to get a very narrow view on a broad topic that many Christians have studied and prayed about before coming to different conclusions. But at least now we have an article telling half of them how wrong they are. This doesn’t incite me to punch anyone, however. Christians shouldn’t use violence. 😉

  8. One of my recent favorites is “vitality” or “drivers of vitality”

    When I hear some people talk about vitality, it reminds me of pharmaceutical commercials that I get tired of seeing on TV. When I hear drivers of vitality I begin to wonder, 1)can I pay for it over a bajillion years without getting upside down in it 2)how many miles to the gallon does it get, and 3)will I look cool driving it when I pull up to my emergent/missional mega-church that has everything I could ever want, including feeling like a small church.

    But there’s also every businessy buzz word ever invented that becomes a church buzzword 20 years later, but at least we’re staying relevant

    • Ha! I haven’t heard of “drivers of vitality,” but I can tell that anyone who uses that phrase sounds like a tool. I think of old pharmaceutical “tonics” that always promised to increase your “vitality.”

      • Its all the rage in Methodist circles right now, and its kind of annoying because it tries to explain things by not really explaining it.

  9. There you go equating number with success again. Mark Zuckerberg-er is lovin’ the money, but he is not an expert. He’s a nerd that had no social life and put all his energy into having a vicarious ones via the Internet; thus lowering the standard of human communications from a face-to-face story, to a few hundred characters and outdated photos. He had no idea how big this would get. His vision was for Harvard to provide him with a few babes while he was there. Good point, Matt, who is an expert?

    The truth is that every sub-culture has it’s own terminology. You should sit in a marketing meeting some day: synergy, strategic fit, core competencies, out of the box, bottom line, revisit, take that off-line, 24/7, out of the loop, benchmark, value-added, proactive, win-win, and ping. It got so bad that a game entitled Bull$&** Bingo was invented to liven up meeting – there is a site dedicated to it.

    I am going to go with “don’t put God in a box”.

    I have a few of my own from the political realm: http://fireandgrace.blogspot.com/2009/10/most-annoying-phrases-verbal-fatigue.html

    I think the thing that bothers me the most is that we cheapen some of the most descriptive words to describe second-rate performance and quality.
    David recently posted..Have You Ever Felt Like a Basket Case I Have

  10. For me, at my church, it’s ‘organic ministry’. That is their way of saying, Oh you have an idea for ministry, great! Go ahead and do it but don’t expect leadership covering, any part of the budget and by the way, we’re not going to advertise at all. We want things to be ‘organic’, except of course the things that leadership wants to program, then we’ll pour tons of budget dollars into it, use up our limited video time to promote it and mention it every week in the sermon.

  11. If I hear about one more “key initiative,” I will ask you to give me face-punching lessons. Ditto “strategic.” And “unique” used with a qualifier such as “somewhat” or “pretty.” Either it’s unique or it’s not!

    Some of the best advice I received when I started writing was to avoid cliches. Instead, get creative and come up with the phrases everyone else will be copying! Next thing you know, we’ll all be referring to annoyances as “face changers”!

  12. My contribution: Co-pastors. As in, “The congregation members are invited to be co-pastors to implement this ground-breaking new ministry.”

    Yikes. And just for the record, I’m a member sitting in the chairperson role on a vision team.
    Cathi Bruhn recently posted..Our Typical Situation

  13. “Contemporary.” It just means anything that’s being done today. Hymns on an organ are contemporary worship songs if people are doing them today.

    “Community.” If you mean neighborhood, say neighborhood. If you mean Bible study group, say Bible study group. If you mean pizza party, say pizza party.

    “A time of food, fun, and fellowship.” Aw, I wanted to have a time of fasting, self-mortification, and solitude!

    “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Eww, you’re giving your baby a bath in that?!
    Eric recently posted..The Things We Want to Sing About

  14. Oh Matt, let me go out on a limb. Let’s not beat around the bush in our blogging. We need not cry over spilled milk. Being a Social media expert is easy as pie. We don’t like to put off tomorrow what we can do today. We just know how to take the bull by the horns.

    McDonald’s commercials is the whole 9 yards. Will wonders never cease with them? They are the real McCoy!

    In a nutshell, McDonald’s is the jack of all trades when it comes to food. They have a green thumb when it comes to business. And their food doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. For them it’s just another day, another dollar.

    In conclusion, I know my comment is as clear as mud. :)

    Charlie Chang recently posted..289 One year closer to buying black hair dye

  15. All this concentration on cliches and you guys just might miss the “revolution”.

  16. Oh, my. This post, these comments…”I’m lovin’ it!”

  17. first king of queens and now mcdonalds? o__o
    i feel so unamerican. oh wait a second…
    (for the record, i thoroughly enjoy both and i <3 my neighbours to the south)

    oh btw, bad puns and memes are still fair game right?
    tim recently posted..Pointless Post 60

  18. Perhaps these phrases don’t bother you as much, because maybe you don’t have several teenagers in your news feed on facebook. I do, though, so here’s the list:

    1. Any status that starts with, “that awkward moment when…” It’s probably not awkward, just stupid.

    2. Totes instead of totally. Totes pisses me off.

    3. I don’t LOL and my A is too big to have ever been LMO’d.

    4. I hate words like epic, win, fail, epic win, epic fail, and the like.

    5. I do not care for putting action sequences between two asterisks. *considers punching computer in the face*

    6. And finally, pictures of yourself in the school’s bathroom mirror are also cliche. Stop it.

    All of these things make me want to punch things in the face.

    Jeff recently posted..Jakob took his mom out for Mother’s Day

  19. I have a real thing against the word relevant. Especially churches that use the word relevant. I have seen churches advertise themselves as relevant and then I think

    a/ relevant to who? Everyone? People in their mid twenties? Does that mean other churches are not relevant?

    b/ isn’t that pretty arrogant, to think that suddenly you have something unique that other churches/ blogs etc. don’t have. Like all other endeavours really don’t get it and our church is the way forward in which all other churches should look to.

    But I guess for what I have been thinking about all this, this is a very relevant post for me to read…..D’oh!
    Paul Robinson recently posted..Rally To Restore Unity- A Blogging call for Christian Unity

  20. Someone already said Epic. Fail. Win. Winning. And the like. Those things are annoying. But so is inserting periods where commas belong.

    what’s the new trend with people not capitalizing anything in their blogs? is hitting the shift key with your pinky that hard? poor grammar annoys me a lot, but we have seemed to create new, cool, rules in how to write. i fear the adolescents of today get to college and don’t know how to write term papers.

    I don’t know what ily or lly means but I’m sick of it. Typing isn’t heard people!

    “Today is the first day of the rest of my life” is lame, isn’t that every day, unless you died?

    I’ve got more complaints but I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy. Ha!
    Carla recently posted..NOT Proud to be an American

    • You are my favorite, right now. I annoy myself with the occasional grammatical slip, so how do you think I feel with texts, e-mails, and even the occasional paper I see that can barely handle basic grammar? My text messages tend to be spelled out and grammatically correct (though I will occasionally use “@” or drop a comma or two to make the message fit).
      Daniel M. Klem recently posted..Stolen Goods


    It’s like nails to a chalk board every time i even hear it from someone!!!

    Wanna help me punch them in the face???!!!!!

  22. We haven’t even really delved into the numerous Churchy-Cheezy-Cliches that make me want to vomit just a little in the offering plate.

    “Change the world”…. Really? The world is much more likely to change you before you even get to close to effecting it.

    Then pretty much whenever someone references Jeremiah 29:11 as if to say, “Enough Said”. It’s used as if it’s this magical-Christian-potion that will turn the depressed and distraught into a Richard Simmons with a Bible.
    Paul recently posted..Night Four of New Parenthood- Video Post

  23. Or, here’s another category. Sermon titles. One of the craziest that I heard recently was Victorious Secrets. I’m all for catchy titles, but you can step over the line.

  24. Some of my favourites:
    “Seed” = “Check”
    “Plant a seed” = “Write a check”
    “Continue in your faithfulness” = “Write checks continuously”
    “God wants to bless you” = “You will get stuff based on whether or not you write a check”
    “Are you receiving God’s fullest blessings?” = “Have you written a check lately?”
    “To whom much is given, much is required” = “You can afford to write a bigger check”
    “Resources that have been entrusted to you” = “Money you have that you should be turning over in the form of a check”

    ….and my most personal favourite:
    “Postmodern” which means Turned off by anything related to the church, unless you offer Starbucks coffee.

    I’m going to blog about this next week!
    Mike recently posted..Not-So Deep Thoughts

  25. The one that annoys the crap out of me the most is when someone says “Don’t Touch God’s annointed”. It makes me want to punch a hole in my wall
    Mike recently posted..Not-So Deep Thoughts

  26. Are you saying the Plague is a cliche? I like avoiding the Plague and cliches as much as possible (unless it can be funny. Do not ask how the Plague is funny, for it will ruin the joke).

    My biggest thing has been tweet/text/e-mail abbrevations: “lol” “omg” “rofl” and on and on and on. They annoy me so much! I still have to occasionally tell my own, dear mother to stop. So sad. Thankfully, my wife refuses to use them, too! THANK YOU, GOD!

    I also agree with all of the other commenters. Especially John Cowart. A friend and I are starting a new para-church ministry for later high school students and young adults. The only cliche we have used so far is “there is a need”, because, quite honestly, there is. 75,000 college students on our side of town, and only around 2,000 are in a college ministry.

    Also, “God told me …”, “The Lord convicted me …”, and “The Lord revealed to me …” tend to be over used by a lot of people. I tend to agree with people that God got through to them on something, but many times when this is said they are missing the point entirely or are telling others what they have been telling the person for quite some time!
    Daniel M. Klem recently posted..Stolen Goods

  27. I’ll “hit the ground running” here, or is that even “relevant” to the discussion? Well, that’s how it is here “on the ground” in the Midwest. “omg.” I am “so outa here.” “lol”
    vanilla recently posted..A Warm Time in Perfect

  28. I’m not sure i agree with you. Maybe it is useful to keep use the cliche’s so that it is easier to understand what we mean. Just sayin.
    Jeremy’s Confessions recently posted..The Monday Morning Quarterback

  29. I actually search blogs for all of the above words and if 2 or more appear, then I’m out. I’m looking for bloggers using words like “nu thang” or “carb-loading.” These are peeps.

    And I don’t like the word “peeps.”
    Jamie {Jamie’s Rabbits} recently posted..The Post About The Birds Who Carry Your Email Away

  30. Oh Matt, let me go out on a limb. Some of the best advice I received when I started writing was to avoid cliches. So sad. When I hear drivers of vitality I begin to wonder, 1)can I pay for it over a bajillion years without getting upside down in it 2)how many miles to the gallon does it get, and 3)will I look cool driving it when I pull up to my emergent/missional mega-church that has everything I could ever want, including feeling like a small church.

  31. I think George Orwell would like your blog.These clinches are not just laziness, but, as the word cliche implies (from the sound a slug press makes) they create totalitarian capital–in consumerism-generating fear. The word “yes” is scarce. “Absolutely” is the way we show expertise.
    Our journalism has been bought out. Why do we need media experts?

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