Love of the Cliche'

  • Excitement abounds around St. Kate’s, as students and instructors...
  • Excitement abounds around St. Kate’s, as students and instructors...
  • Excitement abounds around St. Kate’s, as students and instructors...



Love of the Cliche'

Prof. Fletcher EnglandA few months ago, my best friend, True Blue, sent a text, saying she had just spied

her ex, who is such a cliché.

True Blue: Good thing God broke the mold—I couldnt bear a rerun

True Blue had a point, but she needed some honey with that lemon.

Me: Yeah but good thing he tall dark and handsome LOL

Today, True Blue laments that New Dude is nothing like her ex.

Ah, the familiarity of the cliché. What would life be without its color, comfort, and convenience?

A cliché comes in handy when you don’t want to chitchat: Lets cut to the chase.

It’s a Hershey’s Kiss you blow to your beloved: Ain't you a sight for sore eyes?

It’s a phrase you interject before making an unsolicited or a controversial remark: Well, here’s my two cents  . . .

It’s unanticipated bad news: It hit me like a Mack truck!

When you really listen, you hear clichés spoken all day long in various milieus. For instance, in his 2012 DNC speech, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer quipped in a refrain, "That dog don’t hunt!" It seems that vernacular demands the expedient and dramatic use of clichés in spoken language.

Using clichés in your writing, however, should be avoided like the plague. I’m referring to writing that demands much effort, not minimum effort you use in text messaging, casual email, and a column, for example. I’m referring to the meticulous writing Rita Dove expends in Sonata Mulattica:  “blue saddens this close to the sea, though/turquoise is beckoning and emerald’s best/a hue entertained in furnishings” (45). Despite the unspecified context of these lines, you’re spared reading water of the deep blue sea.  It’s apparent that Dove’s use of language is precise, relevant, and true to the experience she attempts to convey.

Now, take some bad poetry I wrote back in the day, when I used the cliché, separating the wheat from the chaff. I had heard and liked it, and I thought I was using it cleverly. But, I had never seen chaff, let alone wheat. I didn’t know anything about a threshing floor or a winnowing fork needed for the process.  And, I had no idea that its source is Matthew 3:12.

The metaphor I had tried to build regarding love gone awry had no genuine connection to my limited, suburban, modern experience. So, I had rendered a hollow thing. I had failed to heed the traditional advice of my writing instructors: Write what you know. My reviewer commented kindly in the margin: "Interesting.  What do you mean to say?" Hmm, I wondered myself. Eventually, I realized that if I didn’t really understand the words, I shouldn’t use them. Newsflash! But, you know it’s easier said than done when irresistible-sounding clichés float about for the taking.

Many of them were once fresh, meaningful expressions. Now, though they are comfortable and convenient, especially in the vernacular, they’re devoid of depth and ingenuity. You use the same words again and again, when so many are yet to be written, let alone spoken. According to the Oxford University Press,  "At the very least, a quarter million distinct English words are published in the Oxford English Dictionary." Take a look in the OED and find some new vocabulary to flaunt in your next work.  Perhaps, you’ll create a cliché of your own.

Source Links:

More Wonder of the Word »