Avoid the Cliché of Bad Metaphors and Clichés

You know what they say about business… the key to getting your stones in the house is to have a skip who knows the rub of the sheet! If that makes any sense to you then you are a reader who certainly knows their sweep from their LSD.  For those who are still bemused, the metaphor is a sporting one and comes from the world of Curling.

If you are amongst the many who were left wondering what I was on about, then I have perfectly illustrated the point of this month’s article which is about communicating to your audience in a metaphorical language they understand.

Football metaphors and analogies are the most popular in my experience and every time I hear them I silently groan. I do this not because of any particular feelings towards football or I don’t understand the context, but rather because they are lazy and overused and also make assumptions about the demographic of the audience i.e. that everyone in the audience was avidly viewing the Liverpool / Real Madrid Champions League final or similar.

the first lesson to draw from my curling metaphor is that not everybody is into your sport and therefore you are excluding some of your audience and also very definitely stating something about you. Deploying football-related metaphors may run in your favour in a meeting where the decision maker is a fan of the beautiful game, but it most definitely won’t carry favour if they are a big fan of the roaring game.
Then of course there is the dreaded use of mixed metaphors – it’s time to get all your ducks in a row if you don’t want to be walking on thin ice after all… One favourite comes from the former Lib Dem MP, Simon Hughes, who crafted a real gem to put down MP Jacqui Smith: “Out of the hat on Monday night the Home Secretary produced the rabbit, the temporary provisions Bill, as her fig leaf to cover her major U-turn.” Avoid mixed metaphors. Always!

By the way, if you’re reading this and feeling the inclination to do a grammatical knowledge check, I’ll toss you a bone in the form of a quick reminder:  a simile uses ‘like’, a metaphor doesn’t (so all the world is like a stage vs all the world’s a stage).

When using metaphors, try to pick a topic which has universal relevance. While the topic of family may not score so many partisan punches, we all have one – in some form or another – and therefore we can all empathise with a familial context – note how many laughs stand ups manage to squeeze out of the topic. Travel is another neutral theme to mine from, with its sense of going somewhere, moving forward.

Hackneyed clichés and corporate jargon are also to be avoided. Why? Because everybody uses, has used, will use these horrible phrases that once upon a time meant something but now have become like the meme you’ve seen a thousand times but keeps coming back with the same picture, different text. ‘Driving change’ is an empty expression much loved by businesspeople and politicians while ‘levelling up’ is currently vying for a Top 10 spot. On the other side ’thinking outside the box’ is so last century and ‘low hanging fruit’ has been used so often it’s now as desirable as a soggy paper bag of rotten produce dressed up as a greengrocer’s end of the day budget bargain.


To conclude, if it sounds like a cliché then follow the inner voice that tells you that’s exactly what it is and, as in the simile, avoid like the plague!