At the end of the day …
I’m tired of hearing that phrase. Are you?
What could take its place?
Idioms—groups of words that convey something other than their literal meanings—are intrinsic to languages. The common use of at the end of the day, for instance, doesn’t specify nightfall.
By stimulating visual and emotional connotations, idioms enliven our speech, but not always. Depending on the frequency and context of their usage, they can be advantageous or detrimental to our speaking and writing.
The following examples showcase four reasons why idioms fail as well as demonstrate how a little more information can replace hackneyed expressions.
1. Multiple Idioms
Although one phrase might fit well and illuminate the desired point, multiple idioms produce rambling sentences in which bits or chunks of meaningful information get lost.
Meaningless: After working her fingers to the bone, Mary realized she had bitten off more than she could chew so went back to square one and hired an assistant.
Understandable: After working her fingers to the bone, Mary realized that she needed help and hired an assistant.
Precise: After working the entire first month on the project without a day off, Mary realized that she needed help and hired an assistant.
2. Incorrect Idioms
Using an idiom without knowing just what it means usually leads to making no sense.
Wrong: As a rule of thumb, we order cheese pizza for the children who attend Wednesday’s afterschool program.
As a rule of thumb indicates a standard quantity or meansurement. It does not mean the same as typically.
Understandable: As a rule of thumb, we order one cheese pizza for every four children who attend Wednesday’s afterschool program.
Precise: Ordering one cheese pizza for every four children who attend Wednesday’s afterschool program ensures they have enough to eat and nothing is wasted.
3. Confusing Idioms
The idiom itself can cause confusion in certain contexts.
Confusing: Let’s put that puppy to bed and adopt the dog we met at the shelter yesterday.
Precise: We’ve decided that we’re ready, so let’s stop talking about it and adopt the dog we met yesterday at the shelter.
Confusing: At the end of the day, we decided to open the store on Monday morning.
Precise: Concluding that we had enough inventory, we decided to open the store on Monday morning.
4. Overworked Idioms
Whether one person continually uses the same expression, or the masses adopt a particular idiom, such overworked words serve no value and pose negative distractions.
Overworked: At the end of the day, John told the representative of ABC Corp. that we needed dates for all action items listed on the contract.
Precise: Our department reviewed the terms of ABC Corp’s contract, and John told the representative that we needed dates for all action items listed.
I’ll leave you with this:
At the end of the day, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so let’s strive to avoid idiomatic clichés in our speech by taking one step at a time.
Translation: Rather than obsessing over the idioms in our everyday language, let’s strive to use them more sparingly and effectively by paying attention to what we’re writing and saying. If it works, we keep the expression. If not, we take a moment to find a more meaningful or interesting choice of words.
My best to you,
Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady
Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at https://WriteLady.com.