CLICHE: (noun) a commonplace or trite expression . banality . a phrase or opinion that is overused
I know you don’t wake up every morning with the word cliche on your mind, and perhaps the closest some of us have come to thinking about the word may have been that time back in high school when an overzealous English teacher underlined a phrase in one of our essays and wrote “cliche” in the margin, leaving us wondering what a cliche was.
Cliches are expressions that were once new and fresh but have been used so often and so extensively that they have lost their impact and are now empty of meaning, and some people may even find them irritating. Writers and public speakers are always warned to avoid using them. Shun them like the plague. There’s a cliche for you.
Here is a list of some popular cliches:
light as a feather lived happily ever after
it hit me like a thunderbolt it’s raining cats and dogs
he’s a diamond in the rough at this point in time
don’t judge a book by its cover it’s as cold as ice
every cloud has a silver lining that’s a knee-jerk reaction
Have you been guilty of using any of the cliches above? Time to quit. Maybe you know of some that aren’t on the list and wouldn’t mind sharing them.
If you look hard at the list, you’ll see that these are really good images, actual figures of speech. The problem is we got too much of a good thing—another cliche here. The phrases lost their luster. My college professor in Survey of European History class once had us laughing when, in relating an anecdote, instead of saying, “I didn’t know the man from Adam,” he said, “I didn’t know the man from. . .” then paused and with an impish smile said, “Eve.” He was trying to avoid using the cliche “didn’t know him from Adam,” and we found the switch hilarious.
Some of our cliches have good lineage. Several come from Shakespeare. “All that glitters is not gold” is from The Merchant of Venice, and “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is from Romeo and Juliet. They’re still effective when read in the context of the plays. We have lifted a number of sayings from the Bible and made them into cliches also. For instance, “To everything there is a season” is from Ecclesiastes 3:1. “By the skin of my teeth,” which I heard an interviewee use on NPR this morning, is from Job 19:20. Abraham Lincoln made Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:25–“A house divided against itself cannot stand”– powerfully appealing, but it resulted in a cliche. Some popular beliefs have evolved into cliches that have been attributed to the Bible, but they are not found in holy writ. “God helps those who help themselves” and “Cleanliness is next to godliness” are not at all biblical, even though some people preface them with “As the Bible says.”
Cliches are true and make sense, as “All that glitters is not gold” illustrates. Scammers make this one true in every way. But many people, especially English teachers, don’t like cliches because they admire originality and creativity, qualities we appreciate when we read a good book or listen to a captivating speaker. The Chinese, however, are said to like cliches. Imagine that! The explanation given is that they prize tradition rather than newness and individualism, which Westerners cherish. For the Chinese, oft-repeated words and phrases serve to reinforce their societal values. Not so with Westerners, whose values are forever changing. In Western culture, people are always looking to try something new.
It is possible that a person’s life can become a cliche–hum-drum and monotonous, lacking freshness. To make a change, you don’t have to be like the people that the Apostle Paul encountered in Athens on his Third Missionary Journey. They hung out daily in the town square, eager for the latest news, craving whatever was different. But if life for you has become a little like a cliche, it may be time to branch out into a creative and stimulating activity to bring freshness and enjoyment to your experience.
Diane Rosier Miles
Judith, your observations about cliches are “tried and true.” Thank you for writing another informative, entertaining blog post.
Good to hear from you. Thank you for this “one of a kind” response.I won’t hear another like it I’m sure. It “takes the cake.”
You’ve made me smile today. I hope all’s going well with GABRIEL and your other writing. JN