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

By Joseph Priest, Corporate Writer, Syniverse

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

While it's true that PR pros, journalists and marketers fall back on familiar phrases at this time of year, it's also true that these phrases have become dull and lifeless after many years of use. Clichés are only effective if they can be used with a fresh twist or in an ironic tone. What’s more, one of the worst things about clichés is that by falling back on them we don’t stretch our writing muscles. We don’t try to find that perfect turn of phrase that could capture a reader's attention and indelibly bring a situation to life.

So resist trying to set the mood with clichés such as “you’d better watch out,” “have yourself a merry little,” or “it’s beginning to look a lot like,” or most other phrases that come from a popular song, poem, story or movie. 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 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.

With that in mind, here are some clichés to try to avoid in your prose, along with a couple of notes to remember on some other wintertime terms that are often miswritten and misunderstood.

Good luck with your writing this holiday season.

Holiday Clichés to Stamp Out

  • Christmas came early - Please, do not use.
  • Dickens - Give the famous author of A Christmas Carol a rest and stay away from ghosts of anything past, present or future. Also keep “bah” and “humbug” out of your copy.
  • Jolly old elf - Don’t use it. And if you must use “Kriss Kringle,” remember the double “s” in the first name.
  • Old Man Winter, Jack Frost - Leave these and other moldy personifications in storage.
  • Ring out, ring in - Please do not “ring out” or “ring in” an old year, a new year or anything else.
  • ‘Tis the season - This one cannot be made fresh. Do not try it.
  • ‘Twas the night before - “'Twasing” is no more defensible than “’tising.” (And if you refer to the Clement Moore poem, the proper title is A Visit from St. Nicholas.)
  • White stuff - If this phrase ever had any originality, it’s long since lost it.

Other Misunderstood Wintertime Words 

  • Xmas - This abbreviation should not be used in formal writing, although it isn’t a slang word. The word is  derived from Greek, in which the letter “X” represents the first letter (chi) of the Greek word for Christ (Χριστος). In the early days of printing when typesetting was tedious and costly, abbreviations were common. For this reason, churches began to use “X” for “Christ” and from there it moved into general use in commercial printing. Hence, the pronunciation “ex-mus” is a misinterpretation of this abbreviation.
  • Hanukkah - This is the official AP style spelling of this holiday, but it is also spelled correctly a number of other ways (“Chanukah,” “Channukah,” “Hanuka” or “Hanukka”) because the name is translated in different ways from the Hebrew letters.

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