March 3, 2015

Politico’s Mike Allen, founder of the influential Beltway tipsheet “Playbook,” once wrote that those who write in clichés are probably thinking in clichés, too. As news organizations prepare to cover the 2016 election, here are some hackneyed words and phrases they should consider leaving off the campaign bus:

New York Times standards editor Philip Corbett weighed in Tuesday with a list of well-worn words that sneak into The Times’ coverage:
“I can project with confidence that we will see far too many uses of “optics,” “narrative,” “pivot,” “war chest” and “coffers” in the months between now and November 2016.”

Related NewsU link: Toolkit for Reporting on the 2016 Election

A 2012 election style guide from The Associated Press offers a litany of stale verbiage. The biggest cringers:

  • pressing the flesh (“shaking hands is preferred.”)
  • rainbow colors: (“Instead, use “Democratic-leaning, Republican-tilting or swing-voting, etc.”)
  • hat in the ring: (“a candidate decided to run for an office”)
  • veepstakes: (“the competition to be a candidate’s running mate.”)
  • horse race: (“closely contested political contest.”)

Meanwhile, The Washington Post has this index of 200-plus journalism clichés to avoid. The most egregious offenders:

  • A favorite Washington parlor game
  • Game-changer
  • Hotly contested
  • Political football
  • Partisans on both sides

In September, Poynter conducted a minuscule, non-scientific poll to see which words journalists couldn’t stand. The worst stinker? Ballyhoo, with 56 percent of the vote. Other contenders were lambaste, opine, salvo and pontiff.

Can you think of more cliches that belong on this list? Email me at and I’ll add them.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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