I've made a very unscientific study of what language tics are bothering me most as 2002 wanes, and at the end of the day, the winner for cliche of the year is . . .
"At the end of the day."
Days do end, and sometimes it's necessary to refer to that, so I'm not advocating a search-and-destroy mission for those words. But the phrase appears to be taking over the world as a substitute for other cliches, such as "When all is said and done" and "When the dust settles." In a slightly more scientific study, I searched the LexisNexis database for appearances of "At the end of the day" in The Washington Post. The growth of the cliche was striking: The phrase appeared 39 times in 1980, 140 times in 1995 and 273 times (so far) in 2002.
The cliche is not a 2002 phenomenon, of course. The most significant leap appeared in 1998, with 213 appearances -- up from 142 in 1997. This year just happened to be when this irritant, at least for me, leapt from the background, like the one-minute-unnoticeable, the-next-minute-intolerable noise from the newsroom TV that nobody from the day side ever bothers to turn off.
What to use instead? Ultimately comes to mind as one possibility. You're the editor. Use your imagination.