Uninspired Clichés You Should Avoid

Uninspired clichés

So much of our lives is routine, and often our language falls into repetition, too (“How are you?” “I’m fine,” “Nice weather,” “Sure is”). We’re too busy to devise ingenious expressions all the time, so we rely on quick clichés and other language loops.

The problem is, when you're trying to communicate, rehashing weary prose inspires drooling, not doing. To help, we’ve drawn up 12 clichés that are meant to motivate but are too flogged to do it. Let’s send these tired folks down south to Florida!

Drawing board

Ah, the drawing board. Time and again we go back to you—but it's time to pack you away. Why? Well, because you’ve been our draughtsman’s table for about 70 years and we think it’s time for a new one.

The phrase back to the drawing board has been around since WWII. In 1941 New Yorker magazine ran a cartoon by Peter Arno showing military crew members sprinting to a crashed plane and a sketch-laden designer walking away saying, “Well, back to the old drawing board.” Even 70 years ago, the drawing board was old.

Bring it

…where? And for that matter, what should we bring? Are we trying to decide whether or not to pack the second Snuggy for a camping trip? (Always bring the second Snuggy, come on). Or are we challenging a group of cheerleaders to a match of ultimate tumbling skills?

Bring it is simply too vague and vacuous a term to have any real striking power in day-to-day speech. What it needs is a few more creative and clarifying details, like the what and the where

Fun fact: Although this cliché started as a general phrase for "doing the job well," it became associated with baseball in the 1980s: "to throw a ball very fast."

Do what it takes

If we knew what it took, we would have done it already. Do what it takes wins the award for laziest way to say “just get it done and stop talking to me.” Rude.

Get the ball rolling

Not a trite expression in the 1800s, get the ball rolling now sends us careening down to the soggy bottom of boring.

The cliché has uncertain origins, taking us back to the 1800s. One story claims the expression comes from William Harrison’s Victory Balls during his 1840 presidential election. The triumphant balls were ten-foot diameter orbs of leather and tin that Harrison would invite his supporters to push during his rallies and “keep the ball rolling.”

Aside from the dust on these 170-year old balls, our real reason for sending this cliché packing is that Harrison’s election was the first of its kind to introduce advertising slogans, promotional fluff, and overall showboating in political campaigns. 'Nuff said.

Go the extra mile

Maybe this cliché is so tired because it’s always going one more mile than it needs to!

Go the extra mile likely comes from the Sermon on the Mount and one of Jesus’s commandments: “whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain [two],” or "do more than what is needed." 

Who can dispute the beauty of that selfless charge? We certainly can't.

However, some translators claim that at the time it was written, this lovely prose was actually referring to the Romans demanding local goods and services. So, maybe not that selfless.

Out of the park

Knock (or hit) one out of the park is just one of the many sports-related clichés we use to motivate or praise people. It connects the achievement or encouragement of excellence with smashing a baseball out of the stadium for a homer.

We love America’s pastime (which will never get old), but unless you figuratively smash your bat to splinters while doing it, leave knocking one out of the park for the players.

Push the envelope

We’re back to asking the basic questions here: where and to whom do we push the envelope? What’s in it? These are legitimate questions we need to understand before using this phrase.

Okay, full disclosure: We’re intentionally misleading you for attempted-humorous effect. Envelope here actually refers to a mathematical concept used in aviation. The envelope is the upper and lower limits of variables (like wind speed and altitude) that contribute to safe flying conditions. Pushing the envelope is seeing what those limits are. Actually, that’s pretty cool. But see if you can find a perky pilot that can fly a little higher.

Raise the bar

Another saying linked to sports, raise the bar started its life in the track and field events of the Pole Vault and High Jump. Athletes compete by running and jumping over an obstacle (bar) that’s gradually raised to separate the winner from the rest. And like all the clichés here, there’s absolutely everything right with the underlying message to set higher goals for yourself and develop the mental and physical speed, stamina, and musculature to surpass those goals. But we can tell that bar’s getting bored—all it does is raise and lower, and that’s a limited range of motion.

Shoot for the moon

July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong. “One giant leap for mankind.” We’ve been to the moon, people! At least seven times. What else you got? Okay, we need to recognize the extraordinary power of that stellar lunar accomplishment almost 50 years ago. It’s sad that shoot for the moon has become so trite given the magnitude of bouncing along the craters of another planetary body. That’s still incredible to reflect on. But (yep, there's a but), as long as we’re trying to inspire people to think in ways that scintillate the synapses of our brain, we need to shoot for something beyond what we’ve already attained. So, shoot for...Pluto? It seems lonely out there anyway.

Take it to the next level

No, no, no, no, no. 

For far too long, we have succumbed to the drudgery of struggling to fulfill this syrupy request. We have no idea where we are, what “it” is, and where we need to go.

Think outside the box

Possibly our least favorite cliché is so stunningly uninspiring that when we hear it, we immediately look around for a box to plunge into and start thinking conformist thoughts really hard, purely out of spite. The “box”—of course, a symbol of unimaginative rigidity—is also a literal reference to a 1914 square of dots called the “Nine Dots Puzzle,” which asks puzzlers to draw a line through all the dots using the fewest strokes. In the 1970s, corporate trainers and management mavens used the puzzle to test employees on their visionary thinking skills. We think the silica in the hourglass has long been settled for this cliché, and it’s time for a new game of Pictionary.

Wave goodbye

We hope you enjoyed bidding farewell to these uninspiring clichés. It’s okay if you want to spend a little more time with them and help them pack. But eventually, set them free to sip their martinis in Boca Raton and seek out effervescent go-getters that are really ready to work!

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