You’d Better Watch Out . . . for These Holiday Clichés

The holiday season is in full swing, and along with those old decorations we pull out and dust off are those shopworn clichés that we uncover and inundate our language with each December.

It’s not surprising that PR pros and business communicators fall back on these familiar phrases at this time of year, but it is surprising that many of us don’t consider how dull and lifeless these have become. Clichés only work if they can be used with a fresh twist or in a sharp ironic tone, and by falling back on them we don’t stretch our writing muscles to try to find that perfect turn of phrase that could capture an audience’s attention.

So resist trying to set the mood with clichés such as “you’d better watch out” or “have yourself a merry little . . .” or other phrases that come from popular songs, poems, stories or movies. This is not to say you shouldn’t try to cleverly inject some holiday allusions when called on to do so for a client or campaign, but try to dedicate the time necessary to craft something original or provocative. That’s what will break through the clutter of clichés competing for everyone’s attention.

Here are 10 holiday and wintertime clichés, ranked in my own order of most overused starting with number 10, to try to avoid. Do you have any you would add to this? . . .

10. Naughty or nice – Please, no.

9. White stuff – If this phrase ever had any cuteness, it’s long since lost it.

8. Old Man Winter, Jack Frost – Leave these wintry personifications in a deep freeze.

7. Jolly old elf, Santa’s little helpers – Keep a safe distance from these.

6. Christmas came early – (Groan.)

5. It’s beginning to look a lot like – One of the all-time classics to stay away from.

4. Parodies of The Twelve Days of Christmas – These are even more tedious than the original.

3. Dickens – Give the author of A Christmas Carol a rest and keep “bah, humbug,” “Don’t be such a a Scrooge” and the ghosts of anything past, present or future out of your copy.

2. ‘Twas the night before – This one absolutely cannot be made fresh. Do not try it. (And, by the way, the proper title of the Clement Moore poem is A Visit from St. Nicholas.)

1. ‘Tis the season – Is it possible to make document-writing programs like Microsoft Word automatically reject this phrase?

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