Sunday, 18 July 2010

At the end of WHAT day?

‘At the end of the day’ is an annoying modern cliché. I wouldn’t mind if people were talking about bedtime but they rarely are. I can accept its use by people chattering over a pint when language is far less important than a good gossip but I have heard news reporters using it. I’ve heard government officials too, specialist doctors, solicitors, people who should have a better command of the English language.

I’m not suggesting that we all create totally new and exciting phrases each time we speak but we could try to be a little more original. Shakespeare, it seemed, was always creating new phrases. It’s a shame that we’re so lacking in originality ourselves that we’re still copying his ideas.

‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ from Romeo and Juliet.

‘All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players,’ from As You Like it.

'There's method in his madness' which was originally ‘Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't,’ from Hamlet.

I could go on and on... and on. His command of language was truly inspiring. When his contemporaries heard some of those lines for the first time they must have leapt about with excitement.

‘Don’t use clichés’ has become a mantra of creative writing classes. They’re normally referring to the old, well-worn type, like ‘dull as ditchwater’. City dwellers rarely see ditchwater and I suspect it’s not really dull. There are probably insects hopping around in it, the odd lizard or mammal and maybe even fish. In other words the phrase does not create a useful picture in my mind. The mantra should extend to modern slang too, like ‘end of’. I’m sure I heard the PM use that the other day.

If it’s good practice for writers to avoid clichés then it’s not unreasonable for speakers to do the same. So, if you’re a reporter, a government representative or even the Prime Minister, please don’t use the phrase, ‘at the end of the day’. Why not use the word ‘ultimately’ or better still nothing at all. Just tell us what it is you’re trying to say and remember, at the end of the day, the phrase adds nothing.

Is there a cliché that really annoys you?

‘To cut a long story short’ was a Tweet suggestion from my Twitter friend @mariaAsmith and I agree with her. It’s really irritating.

Is there a cliché that you rather like?

‘Count your blessings’ was a Tweet suggestion from my Twitter friend @MiriamHalahmy. Her Mum would say this and then tap the heads of her six grandchildren. Now that’s lovely.

Thanks for your contributions.


  1. At the end of the day is one of the ones that bugs me as well.

    My son has a dry, sarcastic sense of humour - his creative phrasings totally crack me up - he rarely uses a cliche. Love it :)

  2. 'At this moment in time' and ' when all's said and done' both drive me nuts and even though there are a few cliches I catch myself using - I know I shouldn't, so I won't admit to actually liking them!

  3. Hi Jemi, I love the sound of your son's sense of humour. I have a son like that too. Do write his phrases down so you can share them with us... and then we can turn them into clichés by over-using them!

  4. Yes, Ann, those annoy me too. But I also have to admit to using clichés. In fact since I wrote this blog I've been even more aware of them and keep having to stop mid-sentence. I suppose you could say I've made a rod for my own back... but you wouldn't of course!

  5. I think there's a process whereby a fashionable idiom is taken up ironically by commentators, politicians etc then suddenly becomes the norm. Sadly can't think of an example - but I can see how something like 'am I bothered?' could go that way. Hope not though!
    Yes, 'ultimately' is a lovely word, but don't forget that these days we mustn't use Latin derivatives if there's a 'plain English' equivalent. Frankly it's perfectly plain to me. (Think I feel a rant coming on - sign of a good blog post!)

  6. Hi Ali. I'm so proud to have initiated a rant! I can think of a number of examples of ironical idioms used by TV personalities. They would call them catch phrases. One of the most misused ones is 'loads of money' which Harry Enfield always meant as an insult but was taken up by those who didn't understand and used with pride.

  7. I have always detested 'at the end of the day'. It's particularly beloved by politicians and football players, for some reason!

  8. Hi Talli, yes footballers do tend to say 'at the end of the day' a lot but then they're paid for their sporting ability. What excuse do politicians have?

  9. I just think of Les Mis when you say that. At the end of the day you're another day older.

    I would love to know where the phrase "anyhoo" comes from. I use it a lot but always like to know the origins of what I say.

    I used to say "as happy as Larry" all the time. Larry was an Australian boxer. He was happy because he never lost a fight and got $1,000 for his final fight in 1870. I try never to use that phrase anymore.

  10. Thanks KFC, I never knew that about Larry. Don't we say some silly things ;-)

  11. I find it difficult to tell the difference between cliches and idioms. I can't think of any that annoy me right now, but now I'll be alert and I'll rush back here to tell you.

  12. Hi Sarah, the key to this discussion is an understanding of a cliché to be an idiom that has been overused so that it no longer adds colour to a sentence and is often more irritating that useful. Are there any examples of this in Spanish?

  13. Ah, I see. Oh, yes, there must be loads in Spanish too, I'll try to think and see if they coincide with English ones.
    Your post might trigger a phobia to idioms, like the one with adverbs, where everyone avoids them completely!
    I've been noticing the word "Actually" appears in virtually every sentence I hear lately (there goes one or two adverbs).

  14. Many apologies to you, Sarah, and to anyone else who develops a phobia to idioms as a direct result of my post. I should have put a health disclaimer at the top! On the other hand if it means people stop using the irritating ones then 'hurray'!

  15. I don't have any cliches that annoy me, but there is a word that bugs the hell out of me, which is misued. That is the word "literally." It must annoy others too,