Get rid of it
If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, a colleague or, hell, a human being, you would do well to purge stale, formulaic expressions from your writing and conversation. The list below is far from exhaustive, but it’s a respectable starting point.
At the end of the day
A pretentious way to say ultimately or finally.
At the 30,000-foot level
A perspective from which you cannot tell what is actually going on down there.
Building to a crescendo
A crescendo is a steady increase in volume, not the highest point. Didn’t your piano teacher teach you anything?
In the final analysis
Save it for the day you graduate from therapy.
In the wake of
If you’re not on the water, you’re not in the wake of anything. Try since or because of.
Have you traveled on an interstate highway lately? Surrounded by tractor-trailers and people in hulking SUVs going 90 miles an hour? You want the Internet to be like that?
It’s all good
No, it’s not.
Long battle with cancer
Dying is bad enough, but to be sent off with a cliche is just sad.
Squeezing half a percentage point out of the profit margin does not mean that you are Jack Bauer saving the nation from a nuclear explosion.
On the ground
Meaning where people do the actual work and face the actual difficulties, as opposed to the serene empyrean from which you observe them. Don’t be such a prat.
When else would you have had it?
Taking it to the next level
So you’re saying that your work is like a video game?
That dog won’t hunt
Favored by faux-Southerners.
Thinking outside the box
An infallible indicator of unoriginal thinking.
This point in time
Just go back to sleep.
War on terror
Terror is an emotion. Good luck with armed combat against it. A war on terrorism, that is, opposition to those who foment terror, has a marginally greater chance of victory.
A final caution: It is futile to expect that most writers will abandon cliches, because the very familiarity of well-worn expressions is what provides comfort, along with the illusion that one is being profound. I’m reminded of one of the favorite expressions of the late Bob Johnson, my first news editor at The Cincinnati Enquirer, who liked to point out, You’re looking up a dead hog’s ass. If looking up a hog’s ass is a fruitless endeavor, then looking up a dead hog’s ass is doubly nugatory.
Still, since that’s where we are, we might as well enjoy the view.