Yesterday I sat in on a web seminar hosted by PANPA (the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers’ Association) in which Dow Jones’ head of content licensing Chris Pash talked about the use of clichés and corporate speak in the news media. He’d done some analysis using Factiva on how many times certain phrases appeared in publications around the world, in some cases split out by country or publication.
He made the point that clichés do convey meaning – they are a kind of shorthand that helps quickly create understanding. The problem really lies with their overuse. Corporate-speak on the other hand is more insidious because it is designed to disguise meaning.
For example, we all really know that “multitasking” means working twice as hard for twice as long doing the job of two people at once due to corporate downsizing. Chris highlighted the term “green shoots”, used in relation to the first signs of recovery from the global financial crisis started as a nice mind-picture, but which has lost meaning due to overuse.
A few interesting, funny or sad points that Chris made:
- There were more than 100,000 uses of “going forward” in a 3 month period.
- “At the end of the day” appeared 5,537 times in the Sydney Morning Herald. Just shy of the 5,647 times in the New York Times within 12 months. This phrase is particularly dismissive and basically says “I don’t care”
- Australian-isms like “fair-go” and “the lucky country” are still rife in Australian media, while “Down Under” appears in international media a lot as well.
- Some of the most-common words (read: overused clichés) in book reviews are: compelling, masterfully-written or masterful, extraordinary and even “unputdownable” which (despite it being used 111 times in The Guardian last year) even dictionary makers refuse to include.
- Travel writing is another fabulous source of clichés. Some of the most-used words in travel writing included “must-see”, “paradise”, “best-kept secret” and “exotic”
We are all used to hearing politicians, CEOs and other executive say a bunch of words that mean nothing, but as Chris said, just because someone said it isn’t an excuse for media to quote this kind of drivel. It does not add anything to the story for the reader.