Cliché: a trite expression that has been (over)used so often it becomes commonplace in a language culture, often containing a kernel of truth.
Oh the overused, habit forming, lazy cliché! – or is it the ultimate savior when simply at a loss for words and the trusty cliché rushes to the rescue, describing exactly the concept you need to express?
The bane of our writing – trash them all and clean up the purity of language once and for all! No, wait! We can’t live without the familiar wordy truisms that add color and spice (ok, admittedly sometimes old, stale spice) to our vocabularies.
Love a good cliché or hate them, they are rather habit forming and creep into our thinking and verbalizing without our even knowing it. Like any habit, some word patterns are so automatic as to become part of a person’s personality. Good parts (My grandmother used to always say, “I love you to the moon and back”) and bad parts (“We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you”) Ouch!
The value of clichés are their familiarity. We like what is familiar (distrust the unknown) so the familiar cliché is comforting in a tried-and-true kind of way (slipped that one in) and some of the trust that the cliché enjoys can rub off on the person who used it.
But a cliché, especially the old, very tired ones that elicit a silent groan, can reflect mental laziness, an undesirable trait we decidedly don’t want to rub off on us. Cat got your tongue? Wake up on the wrong side of the bed? What goes around comes around. That and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee. Please, if you say that one more time, I may resort to violence.
“Last chance!” “Hurry! This offer won’t last long” “Lowest prices of the season” These advertising come-on have developed into clichés that are no longer believable. Initially there was a pretense of caring (I know you’re busy and you really want this; I don’t want you to miss out on getting) which now just sounds like pushy unrelenting nag, nag, nag. We live in a skeptical world, made that way because of cliché sales behavior.
So what’s a writer to do? The SMART writer uses the familiarity of clichés to best advantage by combining part of the old cliché with a new twist. The result is witty writing, and wit delights every time. Whenever you can use wit in your writing, it brings a smile to the reader, which is always a good thing (releases feel-good endorphins, positive associations, etc.) Adam Levine banter to Blake Shelton on the Voice: That is about as helpful as steak stuck in your colon for 3 days.
Next time the topic is: everyone’s favorite station: WIIFM – gaining and keeping the other person’s perspective.
Comment: clichés that you love/love to hate? Give me a break already!