Obviously a style guide for general consumption cannot impose a list of banned words and phrases, but this is my personal selection.

  • baby joy: Often linked with ‘TV’ or ‘TV’s’ as in ‘Baby joy for TV Kerry-Mae’. See also ‘TV’ and ‘weighed in’.

  • boffin/toff/cad/jape: Joke words which belong in the 1950s, as do many other antiquated words and phrases such as ‘flushed with success’ in any story to do with plumbing. Other shockers are red-faced for embarrassed; scratching their heads (usually in connection with police confronted with a mystery); case-hardened, as in ‘even case-hardened detectives were shocked by the murder’; flame-haired (Titian-haired is not much better); pooch/mutt/moggy, and the wretched just purrfect which used to feature in every caption on a cat picture.

  • down to: Use ‘the result of’ or ‘the responsibility of’ or similar.

  • fall pregnant: Absolutely not. This is a downmarket expression with sexist connotations of ‘fallen woman’. A woman may become pregnant, find she is expecting, or conceive.

  • famous: If someone (or something) is famous, you do not need to say so. If he or she is not famous, using the word is incorrect.

  • flashbulbs: These became obsolete 50 years ago but they still turn up in copy.

  • for free: No. It is ‘free’ or ‘free of charge’, or ‘for nothing’. On the same theme, you ‘make a gift’ or ‘give’, not ‘give a gift’.

  • high-class call girl: I don’t think ‘high-class’ can be applied to any prostitute, but you may disagree. If you need to make a distinction, ‘call girl’ tends to suggest a higher-earning individual than ‘prostitute’. A prostitute can be assumed to be a woman. Use ‘male prostitute’ if necessary. I don’t like ‘sex worker’.

  • humble, as in ‘humble potato’, ‘humble tomato’, or almost anything else. It is one of the most frequently used cliches.

  • in happier times: A caption favourite, particularly for couples having marriage problems, but it is as dated as a 1950s gossip column.

  • lady, for female: Use woman.

  • leafy, as in suburb; manicured, as in lawn; neat, as in semi-detached home. Some cliches have to be used occasionally but these are not among them.

  • little, as in ‘Little Tommy Smith drowned’.

  • love split: This does not need explanation.

  • ongoing: Horrible. Use ‘continuing’.

  • passed away/on/over: Use ‘died’.

  • Peter Pan of pop in reference to Sir Cliff Richard. This makes the hoariest cliche look fresh.

  • slap-up meal/washed down with, as in ‘The Queen and her guests enjoyed a slap-up meal, washed down with the finest chablis.’

  • sleepy: As in ‘sleepy village’ or even, seen recently, ‘sleepy river’.

  • tight-lipped: Use ‘silent’ or ‘refused to comment’.

  • Tinseltown as a synonym for Hollywood: Popular in the 1930s. Enough said.

  • tuned in, as in ‘Millions tuned in to watch Britain’s Got Talent’. Televisions do not need to be tuned these days. (A reader of the guide has pointed out that there is no shorter way of conveying that millions made a point of watching BGT, rather than the telly simply being on. Fair enough. This is only my suggestion.)

  • TV/TV’s as an adjective, eg ‘Marriage agony of TV Barbara’.

  • weighed in, as in ‘The baby weighed in at 6lb.’ Jockeys weigh in after a race, babies weigh a certain amount. You can say ‘the 6lb baby’, or ‘the baby, who weighed 6lb’. While on the topic, avoid saying ‘She gave birth to a baby boy/girl’. Birth is not likely to produce anything but a baby. Say ‘she gave birth’ if the sex is unknown, but otherwise ‘she gave birth to a boy/girl’ or ‘son/daughter’.

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Last updated February 25, 2019