We need clichés like a (black) hole in the head

July 17, 2009 at 3:15 pm Leave a comment

An article posted today on Wired.com offers a great reminder to avoid cliché when writing. So weary has the author grown of certain overused expressions in science writing, including “holy grail” and “paradigm,” that she suggests casting them into a black hole. (There also a link to a hilarious article detailing the 5 albums that should be thrown into a black hole).

The story focuses on stale and stereotyped expressions in the popular science press, but, of course, the scientific literature itself is riddled with worn out words and phrases. Although they may not have risen quite to the level of cliché yet, a few expressions I’d like to see less of are:

  • mediate (as in “gene X mediates the growth of Y”)
  • play a role (“metabolic factors play a role in breast cancer”)
  • ubiquitous (this word is pretty darn ubiquitous these days)

Care to add a few of the scientific clichés you love to hate?

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Entry filed under: Words and sentences.

Writing the introduction What’s the problem? Part 2

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Science of Scientific Writing

This article describes what readers expect when they read - and how scientific writing often violates those expectations.

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