Things we do not say

Word count: 313 words

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help writers. Jim Romenesko is a blogger who writes about the media. The idea for today’s post comes from him.

I started working in newspapers when I was 16.  I advanced from weeklies to dailies when I was in my early 20s and, there, I discovered the existence of “banned” lists. The term sounds alarming but basically it means words or expressions that reporters aren’t allowed to use.

I no longer remember the words on my paper’s banned list although I recall one eccentric editor who disliked a freelancer named Jurgeon. Because that name is so uncommon in Canada, this effectively meant that anyone named Jurgeon was banned from the paper because the editor could never remember the last name of the guy he disliked. Sigh… Most banned items are far more defensible than that!

Recently, I discovered a link to the banned list for the Washington Post’s Outlook section. It comes from a blog by journalist Jim Romenesko. I applaud the Post editors for focusing on banal, wordy expressions and tired, worn-out cliches, such as: midwife (as a verb that does not involve childbirth), little-noticed (that just means the writer hadn’t noticed it) and hot-button issue. I suggest you read the entire list. 

If you have time, you might also want to read a post on the genesis of this banned list. Apparently, it started as a joke by Outlook editor Carlos Lozada. But the best thing is that readers are now contributing suggestions, such as:   “the new normal,” “game changer” and “at the end of the day.”

Those readers are right. Avoid cliches and you’ll go a long way to improving your writing. Thanks to Jim Romensko for sharing this list.

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