Six Overused Quotes to Prune From Your Prose

Greg Daugherty, 20-year veteran of the magazine business and former editor-in-chief of New Choices spots cliches he wishes you and Mr. Bartlett would ignore when selecting quotations:

For years now, word-processing programs have been able to check our spelling and even nag us about our grammatical lapses. But we”re still waiting for a program that will purge our prose of that bane of fresh writing, the overused quotation. Until that day comes, I”m keeping my own list of quotes we”ve all seen a 1,000 times and shouldn”t have to see 1,001. Here are a half-dozen nominees for the most overused quotes in magazine writing today. Maybe you have a few of your own to add to the list.

  1. “The rich are very different.” Based on a line from an old F. Scott Fitzgerald story, this oft-repeated observation long ago lost its richness.
  2. Ditto for that other famous remark about the rich, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” Some attribute it to the Duchess of Windsor, others to her decorator. Either way, it proves a quote can be worn way too thin through overuse.
  3. “It ain”t over till it”s over.” I say it”s over for this one, and for most other Yogi Berraisms, as well. Yoo-hoo, Yogi: Time for some new material.
  4. “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Scholars debate whether Mark Twain or Charles Dudley Warner first said it. But let”s bury it with one of them.
  5. “Let”s kill all the lawyers.” Whatever you think of the merits of the idea, this Shakespeare quotation, which seems to show up in every other article about attorneys, has long been guilty of overuse. Lock it up and throw away the key.
  6. “You can”t go home again.” Okay, but if you absolutely must use this one, at least attribute it to Thomas Wolfe, not that other guy in the white suit.

Get more advice from Greg Daugherty and You Can Write for Magazines, including “What to do with an idea once you have one” and “How editors look at your ideas”.

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