Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

At the end of the day, clichés are no-brainers

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BARRIE, Ont. -- Jargon and clichés permeate Canadian conversations. Collectively, they have prompted an intensifying backlash by those who find them irritating and objectionable.

One main criticism is they establish a linguistic dichotomy, pitting in-group members, who possess a more or less exclusive understanding of special lingo, against out-group members who feel excluded and ostracized.

Accumulating data indicate 34 per cent of women and 30 per cent of men regularly use annoying buzzwords and waffle expressions.

Researchers at Omagh Enterprises have concluded such jargon needlessly "complicates the English language... (and is being) flogged to death."

Ongoing studies indicate some common clichés are more objectionable than others. Among the most disliked are: no-brainer, win-win situation, on my radar, down the road, give 110 per cent, think outside the box, at the end of the day and user-friendly. Others, such as spill the beans and kick the bucket, are more innocuous and tolerated.

According to Sam Glucksberg at Princeton University, the use of jargon and clichés contributes to a "psychology of allusion... (involving) expressions that are intended to be taken non-literally."

Detractors object to such words and expressions because they result in two solitudes, a linguistic dichotomy separating idiom-flaunters from those who prefer plain, concise wordage.

"Office staff often complain about the jargon in the workplace and the notorious office waffler who struggles to make a clear point using all the clichés," explained Tim Phillips in his publication Talk Normal.

About one-third of those surveyed use no-brainer daily and admit regular use of other waffle expressions. Many of them believe trotting out jargon on a regular basis improves their chances of promotion. But, almost half of respondents confirm they lose respect for anyone who employs clichés frequently. Politicians are the most likely to make use of jargon as part of their linguistic repertoire.

"People use clichés as a way of filling in space in a conversation," reported Simon Down at the University of Newcastle and Lorraine Warren at the University of Southampton. "(They comprise) talk without communication" and are not intended to be "informative or persuasive."

Their main purpose is to create "self-identity."

Psychologists suggest extensive use of buzzwords and waffle expressions is a form of cognitive laziness because it avoids the necessity of using brain-work to create clear, concise and imaginative phraseology.

Some researchers have suggested extensive use of jargon is elitist -- an ostentatious demonstration of special knowledge by special people, a knowledge generally considered to be irrelevant, and even repugnant, to those who focus on normal language.

Clichés and idioms are especially problematic to immigrants and others unfamiliar with the nuances of the English language. Researcher Helen Johnson has referred to the resulting dilemma as "cliché culture shock."

Researchers Wayne Wanta and Dawn Legett have suggested frequent use of well-worn clichés might sometimes be linked to stress.

Some 40 per cent of those surveyed say they pick up clichés such as hitting paydirt or what makes her tick from workplace associates. A majority of workers confirm they have to vigorously resist peer pressure to become cliché-users themselves.


Robert Alison is a freelance writer and zoologist based in Barrie, Ont.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2014 A9

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