Published: 04th October 2020
Let's bid goodbye to old, overused terms: Common cliches you can avoid in the English language
Have the habit of using high-sounding phrases and old-fashioned words in formal letters and emails? Don't think that you can impress the reader by using them and overusing the word, 'please'
Recently, an old student of mine sent me an email with a request to edit his job application letter and résumé. While going through the cover letter, I came across clichés such as Respected Sir/Madam, should you wish, on request, prior to, in the event of, Please feel free to call me, furnish and consequently. I felt that these words affected the flow and acted as a barrier for clear communication. I sent him these comments: “The letter is free from grammatical errors. It has a good structure. The letter will be more effective and sound good to the reader if you can remove certain clichés and wordy phrases and use some fresh words and phrases instead.”
Some people think that by using high-sounding phrases and old-fashioned words in formal letters and emails, they can impress the receiver. They also think that by using the word ‘please’ generously in their messages, they can please the reader. On the contrary, their communication loaded with tired, oft-used and over-pleasing expressions irritate the reader. Instead of having a positive impact on the receiver, such bad communication creates a negative impact on them. Here are some basic rules of effective communication:
- Convey messages in a clear and effective manner.
- Try to stay away from polysyllabic words.
- Avoid wordy phrases.
- Use varied sentence structures but the sentences should not be too long.
- Try to avoid passive constructions.
- Be polite but don’t be too polite. Don’t overuse the word ‘please’.
Let me give examples for the rules 5 and 6. The sentence “I am in receipt of your letter dated 15th September 2020” is a passive construction. This passive construction does not help us connect with the reader well. If the sentence is in the active voice, it will be effective. “I received your letter of 15th September.” Some people have the tendency to use ‘please’ excessively in their letters and emails. For example, look at the phrase “Enclosed please find…” In this phrase ‘please’ is not required. It can be rephrased as “I am sending you some information about…”
What are the problems with these expressions: Respected Sir/Madam, should you wish, on request, prior to, in the event of, enclosed please find, at your earliest convenience, furnish and consequently? These are overused and wordy expressions and big words. As there is no freshness in these phrases, they might tire the reader. What are their alternatives?
- Respected Sir/Madam (Dear Sir/Madam)
- should you wish (if you want)
- on request (if you ask)
Here are examples of some more wordy phrases and their alternatives:
- due to the fact that (because or as)
- at an early date (soon)
- at the moment (now)
A passage is not plain English — still less is it good English — if we are obliged to read it twice to find out what it means
— Dorathy L Sayers