Clichés, Euphemisms, Jargon




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Writing clearly demands that you avoid overworked, uninspiring phrases such as clichés and euphemisms, as well as jargon that most likely is unknown to the reader. Learn to recognize these and keep away from them in your writing and speech.


Clichés are phrases that have been used so long and so often that they are dull and unimaginative for the reader or listener. Clichés can also be comparisons, i.e., metaphors that have been overused. Clichés can also be other types of expressions. A cliché is not just a sentence or phrase or a word that many people use; it must convey an idea or message. What was once a clever or interesting way of saying something, has been used so much that it no longer has any force. It is a lazy way to speak and to write. Please, please take pity on those who read your text or listen to you speak, and do not use clichés!  Note: It isn't always easy to distinguish between a cliché, a euphemism, and jargon, but all of them should be used with care. If you can think of another way to get your idea across, it is probably wise to do so. Here are just a few clichés:

Animal clichés

blind as a bat

busy as a bee/beaver

dog-eat-dog world

don't count your chickens (before they're hatched)

gentle as a lamb

happy as a lark

like shooting fish in a barrel

looking a gift horse in the mouth

mad as a wet hen

rat race

sick as a dog

the straw that broke the camel's back

strong as an ox

stubborn as a mule

take the bull by the horns

wise as an owl

work like a dog

You can't teach an old dog new tricks.

What other ones have you heard?

Food Clichés

a piece of cake

cool as a cucumber

cry over spilt milk

duck soup

easy as pie

flat as a pancake

life is just a bowl of cherries

like a knife through hot butter

in a nutshell

slow as molasses

that's how the cookie crumbles

Can you think of more?

Clichés for every mood, every occasion

Live and learn

Live and let live

What goes around comes around

Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans

Don't worry, be happy !

Today is the first day of the rest of your life

Laughter is the best medicine

Tomorrow is another day

Every cloud has a silver lining

(I can see/I can't see) a light at the end of the tunnel

After the rain comes a rainbow

It's always darkest before the dawn

Every rose has its thorn

Cheer up! It's not the end of the world

This, too, shall pass

All good things come to those who wait

Time will tell

The waiting is the hardest part

Some day my ship will come in

No news is good news

Haste makes waste

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

There are plenty more fish in the sea

All is fair in love and war

You can't tell a book by its cover

No pain, no gain

If it doesn't kill me, it makes me stronger

No guts, no glory

There is nothing to fear but fear itself

The devil made me do it

Life goes on

When it rains, it pours

When at first you don't succeed, try try again

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

Rome was not built in a day

There are literally thousands of clichés, and you will not always be able to recognize them. Be alert, be observant, and ask when you are unsure.


Euphemisms are words or phrases that substitute for other words or phrases the speaker or writer feels might be offensive, too blunt, or just too honest. In some cases, using an euphemism may spare a person's feelings (You're not fat, you're pleasingly plump.), but in other cases they are a way to mislead or confuse people. We suggest that you use euphemisms sparingly. **Governments all over the world use euphemisms all the time!

Note: For some unknown reason, American English has more euphemisms than British English has.

Passed away, for die; toilet tissue, for toilet paper; little boy's or little girl's room (and many others), for toilet; domestic worker, for cleaning lady or maid; sanitation engineer, for garbage collector; golden-ager or senior citizen, for old or elderly.  

**Governments are very good at coining euphemisms: peace-keeping force, for army; ethnic cleansing, for genocide; surgical air strikes, for bombings; collateral damage, for civilian casualties. The simple, easily understood term shell shock used after World War I is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.  

Other euphemisms have developed because of the on-going furor of political correctness: hearing impaired, instead of deaf; visually impaired, instead of blind; mentally challenged, instead of retarded.

Many euphemisms have to do with bodily functions, or sex: in a family way, for pregnant; adult movie/adult book/adult entertainment, for pornography

In English, some of the milder "swear" words are euphemisms: heck, for hell; gosh and golly, for God; gee, gee whiz, cheese and crackers, geeeze, for Jesus or Jesus Christ. 

Can you re-phrase the sentence using plain terms instead of the euphemisms?

1.  His job entails custodial duties.                   

2.  She has a substance abuse problem.                   

3.  Paul was laid off because he was unmotivated  

4.  The bank president had misappropriated funds for years. 

5.  Sometimes Jean is economical with the truth      

6.  Great-great Aunt Zelda passed away last year.       

7.  This house has a distinctive aroma.                           

8.  Rocky was incarcerated for a minor indiscretion    

9. XYZ Utilities announced a service interruption.           

10.  In order to enhance fiscal assets, the company decided to down-size



Jargon can mean two things:  

We will talk about the second type of jargon on another page. The first type---specialized vocabulary, or vernacular---can be illustrated here. Every special group has its own jargon. Here is just a small sample:

Business Jargon

aggressive quote

at some juncture


bearish on

bullish on

cost management; downsize



hired gun



major player


put forward







Trim fat


Well-behaved price

a low bid to produce goods or provide services

some unspecified point in time in the future

a quick temporary fix

against; to assert a belief that investments will decrease

in favor of; to assert a belief that investments will increase

the firing of employees and/or the reduction of employees' salaries

a consultant with a particular "expertise" who may or may not have more knowledge than any other employee

use resources owned by the firm to provide goods or services

a firm, union, or other participant which is involved in business deals and has influence

aggressively present a plan as being factual

an independent company created from an existing part of the original company through a divestiture, such as a sale or distribution of new shares.

The firing of employees and/or the reduction of employees' salaries

A stable price---neither rising nor falling.

          Sports Jargon




flick header
hat trick

slam dunk






Novice or newcomer

the players stand together in a group while on the court/field to discuss strategy.

A game that ends with a tied score.

A player's use of his head to deflect the ball.

3 or more goals scored in a game by a single player.

When a player close to the basket jumps and strongly throws the ball down into it

A player who throws the ball toward the basket to make a goal.

A rugby team's defensive players.

A referee's inability to see a foul.

The final swimmer in a relay.

A single race when there are too many participants to have them compete at once.

Medical Jargon


circumorbital hematoma


salvage therapy


black eye

a compound that reduces pain.

The final possible treatment for those who are not responding to other treatments.

Chat Jargon

















disconnected voluntarily

disconnected involuntarily

high 5 (slapping one's hand over the head with another person---sign of agreement)

age/sex/location request

away from keyboard

be back later

be right back

boy friend/girl friend

laughing out loud


rolling on the floor laughing

got to go

ta ta (goodbye) for now

thank you

you're welcome

University Jargon (American style)






frat rat


political science (a school class)

 not attend a scheduled class

middle of the term examinations

freshman or first year student


a member of a fraternity

an athlete

We were going to add some "teen" jargon, but then realized: a) any we used when we were teens would be completely out of date;  b) by the time adults pick up on the latest jargon, the kids stop using it.