I only intended one post on clichés, but in writing it, there was so much information I had to break it up:
Conquering Clichés, Part 1: Introduction
Conquering Clichés, Part 2: Ways to be Cliché
Conquering Clichés, Part 3: Why We are Cautioned Against Them
Conquering Clichés, Part 4: Using Them . . . or Not
The whole idea of clichés fascinates me! Basically, someone expressed an idea in such a unique, amazing, succinct way that everyone jumped on the bandwagon to use it. And *POOF*, suddenly it’s not so unique. Just another overused expression that may or may not mean what you think it means.
I found a cliché dictionary1 at the library that claims over 3,500 clichés! While I’d never heard some of them before, there were more that I knew. Perhaps I was influenced by my mom who had a saying for every situation, but I think part of why clichés sneak so easily into our writing is because we all naturally use them in speech without even realizing we’re doing it.
Learning to recognize clichés is the first step to conquering them—meaning, using them to your advantage rather than vice versa. In this post, I simply want to lay out a few examples of clichés.
Betty Kirkpatrick, in her book on clichés2 attempts to categorize them, which I find extremely useful. Here are some of her categories with my attempt to explain them:
Simile Clichés: All those overused comparisons (often using ‘like’ or ‘as’)
Proverb Clichés: Commonly known/used sayings or expressions, often giving advice
Idiom Clichés: (Akin to proverb clichés.) Overused expressions where the meaning does not equal the sum of the parts (i.e. the meaning is figurative instead of literal).
Allusion Clichés: An overused phrase that alludes/refers to an idea or story
Doublet Clichés: Two words joined by ‘and’ WAY too often
Euphemism Clichés: Overused phrases that refer to “unmentionables”
And I wanted to add a few categories that seem to flood my life:
Plot Clichés: Overused plot devices
Character Clichés: Those characters who show up all too often
Parent Clichés: All those things your parents said that you swore you would never say to your own kids
Personal Clichés: Here you have to dig deep in your own life. What is that favorite expression (or four) you keep using? For writing, critique partners can help ferret them out. For life, a close friend probably knows best.
Hopefully this gives you a good idea of the types of clichés that exist, and the various places they can sneak into. While I’ll say more on this in Part 4, I don’t think we should learn about clichés to ban them from our speech and writing.
Rather, by understanding them and recognizing them, we are in control of the meaning of our words. We need to know what clichés are to use (or not use) them in an effective manner.
And as G.I. Joe would say (in a now extremely clichéd expression), “and knowing is half the battle!”
1. Ammer, Christine, The Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2001.
2. Kirkpatrick, Betty, Clichés: Over 1500 Phrases Explored and Explained, n.p.: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.
P.S. So there were 16 clichés in my first post, which no one guessed exactly, but being the magnanimous person I am 😉 R. Garrett Wilson, was the closest with 14 as his official guess, but 15 suspected clichés. So I hereby declare him to be the winner of a candy bar of his choice. Congrats Garrett!