"Tireless": A single word cliche
|Illustration by Stephen Doyle|
Can an individual word be a cliche? Geoff Dyer in the NY Times ("Next time try unflagging," Feb. 19, 2012) makes a good case that "tireless" qualifies:
Were it not for the way my eye had started to snag on this word, I would not have paid it any attention---and that, in a way, is part of my point: “tireless” and “tirelessly” are words writers seem to use without paying them much attention. “Tireless” is a tired word that has somehow kept its place in the lexicon where others---less resilient but just as obviously over the hill or out of puff---would long ago have retired and bowed out gracefully.
My eye snags on other one-word cliches: "globe" as a substitute for "world"; "decade" as a substitute for an always-serviceable "ten years"; and, if you read a lot about traffic, your eye will often stumble over "signage," which is no improvement over "signs."
Orwell is a good guide to avoiding cliches in your writing: "In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them."
Remember: don't surrender to "upon"; use "on" instead.