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University of Oxford

Rubber-stamp writing

Journalism is produced at speed, and the writer reaching for an expression in a hurry is like a short-order cook going to the shelf for the most familiar ingredients. Journalism is also highly formulaic—write one obituary, and you can write a thousand just like it. That makes journalistic writing a tremendous repository of cliches.

So Orin Hargraves found in writing It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches (Oxford University Press, 240 pages, $24.95). But Mr. Hargraves is no mere carper. A lexicographer and past president of the Dictionary Society of North America, he brings a scholar’s sharp eye (and uncommonly clear prose) to the phenomenon of the...