A Robust Narrative of Game-Changing Crickets: Overused Words and Phrases That Really Get on My Nerves

By Dan Smith, Founder


In book publicity, we’re prone to using some words too often, it’s that simple. In press releases, pitches, phone calls … book publicists sometimes operate like walking clichés. We just can't help it. I’ve gotten to the point at which I cringe when I hear or read certain phrases or words. And I mean cringe when I use them as well, because I’m guilty too.  I also can't help it sometimes, and I hate that. As a book marketing firm, all we do is deal with language and use it all the time. Well, I guess everyone has to use language, so forget the previous sentence … but I digress ...

I want to rant and scream like a combination of Lewis Black and Sam Kinison when I hear these overused words and phrases. And I want to kick myself in the butt every time I use them. So please, allow me to vent.


This one, for some reason, really ticks me off. It just does. Boss: “John, how did that pitch work for the Smith book,” John: “Oh man, it’s crickets out there.” Ughh. I get it, when things are quiet you don't hear anything but crickets, but it’s stupid because you’re still hearing something. So just please say, “there’ s been nothing.”

Game changer

Ok, let’s all agree that when something causes something big to happen, we just say. it’s going to “have a big impact.”


This one is just stupid, in my sophisticated, professional opinion. I don't want to talk about it.


Watching election news is painful enough. One day I counted the use of the word “narrative” on a one hour TV news show … it was used 19 times.

Isn’t narrative a story told in some detail?  Just stop using it. It’s annoying.


Robust is the kind of word that was really cool when whoever first started using it in a business contest. But it’s not cool anymore.  It’s one of the worst offenders, that is, if a word can actual “be” an offender.

Walk it Back

OK, this one is weird. Just say, “Let me take that back.” Enough said.


I really don't know what this means. I don't want to know what this means. I refuse to Google it to find out what it means. I just hate it.

Circle back

Circle back? Do you mean let’s discuss this again? Let’s re-visit it? Then just say that.

Drill down

I refuse to comment. My head will explode.


Wasn't bandwidth a radio thing? I honestly don't know, and again, I don't want to know. And please, please, don't tell me what it means. That’s how much it bothers me.


This term might actually be useful because it says something in one word that could often taken five words otherwise. I don't care. I still hate it. 

Lean forward

OK, this wasn’t an overused phrase, it was one MSNBC made infamous. I was watching MSNBC, and I saw it in the corner of the screen with their logo. I’d never seen anything like it. This was obviously some catch-phrase some marketing person thought was brilliant, but for me, I couldn’t (and still can't) get it out of my head – so wait, maybe they were actually on to something? But alas, I can’t get it out of my head because I never saw something on broadcast news so moronic. MSNBC did more to brand themselves with “lean forward” than anything else they've done. It just wasn’t good branding.

It’s similar to the unfortunate weirdo branding of poor Dan Rather with  “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” Every time I see Dan, I think of the frequency line … and the very cool R.E.M. song. I think of MSNBC, and I think of leaning forward, and wondering what in the hell were they thinking?


Dan Smith is the CEO and Founder of Smith Publicity, the most prolific and largest book publicity agency in the publishing industry. 

2 Responses

  1. Dear Dan Smith: Your list of shopworn words used in publicity goes some of the way toward convincing me I should hire your firm to promote my work. We hate on the same wave length. Agreed, such a list can never be complete, but you definitely must add "unpack," "revisit," "boilerplate," "blown away," "conversation," "nailed it" and "wow." Thank you for not sounding like one more booster-club huckster.
    • Thanks, Barry! So many more to add ... "in my wheelhouse" is a particularly ergrigious one I just thought heard .... again. Let me know if we can be of service to promote your book!