My top three linguistic pet hates: #1

A little boy wrote the following in class: ‘He walked along the road with a cliché on his face.’ Puzzled by this, his teacher asked him to explain and he told her: ‘When I looked up the word cliché in the dictionary, it said “a worn-out expression”. ’

And if there’s one worn-out expression you cannot get away from, it’s at the end of the day. Time and again, you turn on the radio or television to be greeted by someone who quite simply cannot open his mouth without saying ‘at the end of the day’. From time to time I find myself conversing with people who say it all the time, forcing me not only to struggle to follow what they’re saying but also to studiously avoid the obvious response: ‘It’s night.’

Two other clichés that cause me enormous anguish are at this moment in time – surely just a long-winded alternative to now – and in this day and age, where the added repetition of the /eɪ/ diphthong serves only to compound my misery. Thumbing through my copy of Clichés and How to Avoid Them (Michael Munro, Chambers Harrap, 2005), in which each cliché has a star rating from one for the mildly innocuous to five for the downright awful, at this moment in time and in this day and age are among the select few – along with at the end of the day – obnoxious enough to merit five stars. While there are other five-star clichés in this excellent book, these three seem to me to represent the trinity of truly ghastly clichés, the ne plus ultra of the cliché world, the worst offenders on Planet Cliché. In short, they make my blood boil.

As this book points out, there are plenty of perfectly acceptable workarounds for at the end of the day, including ultimately and in the end. So if you feel an at the end of the day coming on, swerve to avoid it and let one of these workarounds do the job.

A famous Goldwynism is ‘Let’s have some new clichés’, and among my contenders for inclusion in any future edition of Clichés and How to Avoid Them are:

  • please do not hesitate: usually seen at the end of business letters in patronising, redundant sentences like ‘Should you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned’;
  • onwards and upwards; and
  • people person: typically seen in statements such as ‘I am a people person’ included in covering letters with job applications. But is people person even a cliché? It may be excruciating, but does that make it a cliché?

So what exactly makes a cliché like at the end of the day so bad? Like all good clichés, it upsets you because you hear it twice. When someone says ‘at the end’, you immediately supply ‘of the day’ in your own mind so that when you then hear the actual words ‘of the day’, you end up having heard them twice.

The second and third of my top three linguistic pet hates will be discussed in later posts.

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(Photo taken on a sunset boat trip in Ölüdeniz, Turkey, in October 2013)