24 Apr 2015

'Keeping it simple' while avoiding clichés

5:09 pm on 24 April 2015

Radio New Zealand's Presentation Standards Manager Hewitt Humphrey on why simple English is encouraged and clichés are not, with a side of aspirate consonants.

150714. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Generic radio studio. Microphone, Onair, console

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Simple English

Radio New Zealand encourages its radio scriptwriters and broadcasters to use language consistent with spoken English. Simplicity is the key to helping you, as listeners, understand more easily what we are saying.

The following are some words which have simpler, better alternatives:

terminate end

attempt try

approximately about

manufacture make

travel go

possess have

assist or assistance help

remuneration pay

purchased bought

numerous many

magnitude (unless referring to an earthquake) size

disembark get off

boarding and alighting getting on and off


As well as writing in simple, plain English, a good broadcaster will avoid the clichés which can make any broadcast sound tired and hackneyed. Here are some clichés to avoid:

up for grabs, under the hammer, grind to a halt, reign of terror, chequered career, in the pipeline, level playing field, blow (for setback), clash (in sports games), gory details, axed (jobs), much-needed supplies, foregone conclusion, gunned down, hammered out, crisis meeting, whirlwind tour, last ditch effort, bated breath, strife-torn, blazing inferno.

Mayoral candidates don't have to "throw their hat into the ring". And the phrase "packing winds" is a cliché which has no place in spoken New Zealand English.


For events of vandalism or multiple murders, we prefer to use the word 'rampage' and save the word spree for pleasurable activities like shopping or drinking.

Aspirate consonants, and a cluster of final thoughts

A correspondent bemoans the practice of some speakers to vocalise an otherwise aspirate consonant, so that a word like "artist" gets pronounced as "ardist". This, I suspect, stems mostly from the influence of American English on our language, and while I wouldn't rate it as particularly prevalent, I would agree with him and want to discourage it at Radio New Zealand.

Two names for which there are two different pronunciations:

Ajax AY-jaks [IPA: ˈeɪˌdʒæks] (usually)

Ajax (football team) IGH-yahks [IPA: ˈaɪˌjɑːks]

Syracuse (Sicily) SIGH-(uh)-ruh-kyooz [IPA:ˈsaɪrəˌkjuːz]

Syracuse (US city) SIRRUH-kyooss [IPA: ˈsɪrəˌkjuːz]

And two random entries from our pronunciation guide:

  • Prostrate is the position, prostate is the gland
  • For Subaru we say SOO-buh-ROO [IPA: ˈsuːbəruː] More on motoring names in a future post.


Note: IPA refers to the universal system of international phonetic symbols and provides a more exact notation of how we say things.


* Hewitt Humphrey is Radio New Zealand's Presentation Standards Manager. If there are any words you would like him to address in future please send your query to rnzwebsite@radionz.co.nz and put in the subject field: Attention, Hewitt Humphrey.