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Lame English:
Buzzwords, Cliches, & Crutch Words

by Linda Jenkinson |


photo credit : Christel

The English language has an open mind that is always open to innovation. Each year, prestigious annals pack new words between their covers, infusing them with meaning. In 2017, two of the words added were emoji and meme. This year mansplainer, and false flag are two entries which were added to the list.

Some words start life in the well-defined folds of the Oxford or the Merriam-Webster dictionary. In time overwork and abuse corrupt their meaning. By the time many words are added to a dictionary, they are shopworn buzzwords, cliches, and crutchwords.


Buzzwords lose their true meanings due to overuse, misuse, and abuse. Although sometimes buzzwords are single, more often, they hook up with other words to spawn phrases.

  • The bottom line (Usually not the bottom line. It's one of many lines.)
  • To be clear (Blame this one on Obama. Now everybody is using it!)
  • At the end of the day (Which day? The bottom line ↓ is that you hardly ever hear this phrase at the end of the day.)
  • Any way, shape, or form (This one is confusing in that it most often describes an idea, rather than a tangible item, and has no way, shape, or form at all)
  • Bad actor ( Rarely someone who has played a role in Hollywood.)


I have to admit, I like cliches. The forerunners of buzzwords, cliches are long-in-the-tooth phrases that have lost favor with society. Although trite and overused, unlike buzzwords, they are full of meaning (note that it may be a different meaning to each of us).

  • A penny saved is a penny earned. (I know the words. I just have to figure out how to make them profitable.)
  • A stitch in time saves nine. (Reminds me of my neighbor darning her kids' socks. I never had the patience to learn.)
  • Every cloud has a silver lining. (A poetic way of saying, "Look on the bright side," which is, itself, a cliche.)
  • Right as rain. (Really? That one is just silly!)

Like buzzwords, most cliches have one foot in the grave and are just waiting for a push, but every now and then you can revive a cliche by making a small change in its meaning or adding on a surprise.

For instance: If you think you have a dog in this fight you are in the wrong part of the arena.

Crutch Words

Rather than support it, crutch words handicap your language. In speaking, the filler words um, er, uh, ah, like,ok, you know, betray your lack of confidence to listeners.

In writing and speaking, adverbs, particularly those ending in ly and ally, are crutches you use to put some punch in your point, but they can have the opposite effect on your audience. One good thing about them is that they are easy to spot.

  • basically
  • definitely
  • truly
  • honestly
  • absolutely
  • totally
  • seriously
  • obviously
  • essentially

Try replacing them or eliminating them altogether. Your topic will be more concise and your points easier to understand.

Let Them Go!

Buzzwords, cliches, and crutchwords can turn the poetry of English into a mind-numbing buzz or they can screech like fingernails scraped down the proverbial chalkboard. When that happens, it's time to retire them, but we humans with our hoarding instincts, will not let them go.

If you're wondering how to close the cover on the buzzwords, cliches, and crutch words in your vocabulary, here are a few strategies that may help:

And a couple of hands-on resources to help you tighten up your writing:

This is the bottom line! up ↑

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