Every day, or every couple of days I receive in my inbox the following email: “Pls proofread”. I like to think of myself as the “Sr Copywriter” at work. There is one other copywriter: a young girl. We proofread each other’s writing. I’m very critical of her work. I’m critical of my own work, too, but I want her to be a better writer. I want her to become obsessed with words, language and grammar. So I send her many articles on how to write better.

One of the things I lecture her most on is her use of clichés. And I’m not the only one who dislikes them. Many style manuals urge their readers to desist from using these things and write original prose. But slang, Americanisms and clichés are almost unavoidable. Am I being unfair to expect her to write original ‘copy’? Am I expecting too much from a 21-year-old (though she might be 22)? Or is age irrelevant? I spent some time reading the Economist Style Guide tonight and I realised just how little I know. And just how many Americanisms I use in everyday speech and writing. Railway station – I’ve never used that, ever. Being Afrikaans, I was brought up on ‘train station’. (I only recently discovered that ‘brought up’ is preferable to ‘raised’ or ‘growing up’. ) Perhaps ‘train station’ is no Americanism as the Economist wants us to believe; it’s South Efrican, I’m sure. Not even my British pals use ‘railway station’…

Where does ‘one draw the line’? How many clichés should be avoided at all costs and how many of them are allowed in one’s writing? Should one always aspire to write even better prose than that found at The New York Times? Or is it OK to write as one pleases?

These style manuals all preach the following: “clichés are tired sayings and your readers will tire of reading them”. But I wonder if readers do tire of reading hackneyed expressions. Do they care? Do you care?

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