• Words & Phrases You’ll Never Write

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Rants & Raves     Comments 39 comments

    Earlier this week I got an email from WriteByNighter Ken H. asking if I ever experience “that fingernails-on-chalkboard sensation” when I read certain words or phrases.

    “People who feel inclined to take up writing have likely read their fair share of groaning prose,” Ken writes. “There are certain phrases and terms that are so hackneyed they feel to me like someone trying to shove an unsharpened pencil in my eye.”

    I couldn’t immediately come up with any, though as soon as I publish this post I’m sure two dozen will rush to mind.

    But mostly we want to know yours. Ken is collecting these phrases from his fellow writers, so I thought I’d open it up to you all: Ken’s fellow writers.

    What are some words or phrases that make you groan as a reader and that you’d never ever ever use as a writer?

    Words or phrases, as Ken puts it, that you’d “take a pencil in the eye” before using in your own work.

    Ken passed along a few examples of his own:

    “I found myself…”

    “Police were baffled.”

    “Fun for the whole family.”

    “Everyday people.”

    The lines are open. Leave your answers in the comments below, or drop me a line if you’d rather remain anonymous (david[at]writebynight.net).


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”



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    jeffrey rathbun

    A few words or phrases that I won’t use
    “I’m just saying.” A perfect storm. synergy,

    David Duhr

    Ugh, “synergy.” I’ll use “a perfect storm” sarcastically. And sometimes I’ll catch myself saying “I’m just saying,” and then I feel like hell the rest of the day.

    Good list; thanks for sharing.

    Elizabeth Westra

    According to authorities, something you can’t pass up, for a limited time,

    David Duhr

    Ha, yeah. Anything with “authorities” is off-putting to me.

    Something you can’t pass up. How about “a sale you can’t afford to miss”?

    Kenneth Harris

    “Act now-supplies are limited!; or worse “…operators are standing by.”
    Assuredly, supplies are not limited (which the purveyor will be testifying to in bankruptcy hearings), and aside from Lilly Tomlin’s “Earnestine”, operators have gone the way of the Dodo. What they mean is; “Oh Lordy, dont leave us with 10,000 unsold timeshares in the Sinai desert!”

    “Now available”. Used on TV by too-long-in-the-tanning-bed car lot owners trying to draw attention to five acres of last year’s overpriced pickups. Not to be confused with “for sale.”

    Jerry Schwartz

    “Everything in the store is on sale.”

    Really? I thought you were keeping most of it for yourself.

    Kenneth Harris

    Now that’s good. I’ll never see that sign on a store front again without yukking.

    David Duhr

    TV at two in the morning can’t be easy for you. All those infomercials? Supplies are always limited, operators are always standing by, and of course, items are always now available.

    But probably for a limited time only. So act fast, and act now!

    Becky Weck Miller

    Any cliche is a given, like “A single tear ran down her face.” Also, anything that would be like really gross, and added nothing to the story or narration. My professor had the worst sentence contest with his wife. She found one that he used in class, “The paycheck drenched in ass sweat was conformed to his cheek.” Now that’s just gross. Also, I would never write anything that had cursing in it or blatant sexual content. I don’t appreciate it, and I’m sure that there are enough of us who don’t that it would behoove authors to eliminate it… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Thanks, Becky. I love these. And I’m probably going to steal both “son of a Benjaminite” *and* “paycheck drenched in ass sweat.”

    Ooh, a worst-sentence contest for the blog. Now THAT would be fun.

    Amber McAlister

    Please, i beg of you… no more of the phrase ” IT IS WHAT IT IS ” I noticed people saying that out of the no-where
    right in the middle of a story and it never applies.

    david lemke


    Barbara Mealer

    You know….way over used. Another is the word smirk. Ya need to look up the definition. I actually refused to complete a book where everyone was smirking. It takes a lot for me to put a book down, but that one word if over used will.. I might use it now and again but that evil grin is needed then. Basically anything which makes me say “oh please,” makes me wonder at their ability to use the English language. If you repeat things over and over, you will lose me as a reader. As to language and sex, that’s fine… Read more »

    Fran green

    At this point in time

    Carol Bro

    “Everything happens for a reason.” I know some find this a comforting thought in times of distress, but I see no basis for this statement (unless one believes in fate). If something bad happens in our life (or something good, or unusual,, or scary), maybe it’s just a matter of being in the wrong place (or the right place) at the wrong/right time. Maybe we showed poor judgment or acted on impulse, and THAT’S the “reason.” Or maybe it’s simply coincidence, or the result of hard work … or laziness. King Solomon summed it up well in Ecclesiastes when he… Read more »

    david lemke

    Depending on the character, there is nothing in dialog that would turn me off as long as it’s in character, not over done and tongue in cheek as needed. With the narrator it’s a horse of a different color. There I expect originality if not always at least most of the time,. Just saying. Literally (anything). Although it’s a cliché in itself any cliché done wrong works. That just grinds my petunias:)


    “Thankfully they were utilizing the 24/7 go to solutions” grrrrrr ;)

    Jerry Schwartz

    That would be approximately 3.4 solutions.

    Jerry Schwartz

    I spent decades in the corporate world, so you can imagine I’ve endured many linguistic fads. I think the most cringe-worthy was “open the kimono.” Not only is it offensive in its own right, but I never heard it said by anyone I’d like to see naked. “Literally died” is an easy target. There are even lists of obituaries for teenage girls who literally died. One of my current pet peeves (and I have a kennel full) is “Yes [or yeah], no,…” “Want some green-bean flavored ice cream?” “Yes, no, I’ll pass.” Believe it or not, when I went looking… Read more »

    Carol Bro

    Sorry, but I was just reminded of another one: Thank you SO much… I used to say this too. Then I started noticing it seems to have replaced the simple “thank you” appropriate to most situations. Shouldn’t we reserve “Thank you so much” for the the more superlative occasions in life? Someone has made you a generous loan, perhaps rescuing you at a low point in your life. “Thank you SO much.” Someone has just saved your child from some terrible disaster. “Thank you so, SO much! There are no words …”! But, “I like your outfit” “Oh. Thank you… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Good one!

    Another one that bothers me is the new response to “Thank you SO much”: “No worries.”

    When in the hell did “No worries” replace “You’re welcome”? And WHY? I absolutely hate it.


    Hey, no worries, David. Blame Crocodile Dundee for that one.

    David Duhr

    I’m sick of blaming Crocodile Dundee for everything. It’s a crutch.

    David Duhr

    Here are a few more I’ve gotten over email:

    “Once upon a time”

    Post-tragedy: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

    “What’s the scuttlebutt?”

    “The ins and outs of.”

    Alexandra Theis

    My father always despised the words “trust me.” Who are you to demand that I take your word to be truthful, or of value for that matter.

    David Duhr

    “Trust me” is a good one. “Believe me,” too. Somehow that one sounds even more pompous. We had a workshop professor who used that all the time, usually while dumping on someone’s story. “That’s not how it happens in real life, believe me.” Ugh.


    Wow. Reminds me of a cashier (family member) who told someone to “have a nice day, enjoy the sunshine.” The customer spun around and yelled “who are you to tell me what to do, drop dead,” etc. Thank goodness he didn’t say “take care.” It might have come to blows. Frankly, I agree with David Lemke. I would use any of the above phrases as long as it worked for the situation in a book. My pet peeve? I don’t love abbreviating everything, but this is the age of social media so I do it, FYI. Wouldn’t do that in… Read more »

    David Duhr

    “Gag me with a spoon” < "Grody to the max"

    david lemke

    Have a favorite aunt who used to say ‘marvy’ it always felt like finger nails on a chalk board. Now I say it to annoy my wife:)



    Jerry Schwartz

    Here’s another one that’s fit for this season of award shows:

    “I’d like to thank….”

    Does that mean “I’d like to thank my parents (or whomever), but I can’t force myself to do it”?

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x