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Choose Your Words: Avoiding Tired and Pretentious Language

  1. Avoid clichés.   Tired expressions (clichés) are sayings that you have heard and read before quite often, like hit the nail on the head and easier said than done. Such expressions can never contribute to fresh, original writing. Avoid or change them as you revise your early drafts. Consider the following clichés.
  Examples Last but not least, the article sends an important message.

My main ambition in life is not to make a fortune, since I know that, as they say, "Money is the root of all evil."

For Baldwin, the problem never reared its ugly head until one dreadful night in New Jersey.

2. Distinguish the formal from the stuffy.   Formal does not mean stuffy and pretentious. Writing in a formal situation does not require you to use long, obscure words and sentences. Clear and direct expression can still be formal. Pretentious language makes reading difficult, as the following example shows.
  Example When a female of the species ascertains that a male with whom she is acquainted exhibits considerable desire to extend their acquaintance, that female customarily will first engage in protracted discussion with her close confidantes.
Simplify your syntax and your vocabulary if you find sentences like this in your own writing. Here are some words to watch out for.
Stuffy Direct Stuffy Direct
ascertain find out optimal best
commence begin purchase buy
deceased dead reside life
endeavor try terminate end
finalize finish utilize use

  3. Avoid euphemisms.   Euphemisms are expressions that try to conceal a forthright meaning and make it seem more delicate, such as change of life for menopause or downsized for fired. Because euphemisms often sound evasive or are unclear, avoid them in favor of direct language. Similarly, avoid doublespeak (evasive expressions that seek to conceal the truth, such as incendiary device for bomb). You will find examples of such language in advertising, business, politics, and some reporting, but do not equate formality with these roundabout expressions.
  Draft    The building's owners offered the inspectors many financial incentives to overlook code violations.
  Revised    The building's owners offered the inspectors many bribes to overlook code violations.
See also
Word Choice Checklist
Dictionary and Thesaurus
Exact Words and Connotations
Tone and Language
Figurative Language
Avoiding Biased Language