"Clichés are plagiarism for the masses." Earl Eldridge
We use a lot of clichés. That's the nature of our language. So, if you want to sound like everybody
else, use them. On the other foot, if you want to sit apart from the rest, then be original.
Clichés generally start out as figurative language, which is usually a
good thing – figurative language, that is. For instance, you want to say that, when forced to choose between two incompatible choices of action, a person refuses
to make that choice, but instead acts in such a way as to reap the benefits of both those non-congruent alternatives, even
though it is obvious that she can only successfully do one of the two, and, quite possibly, for failing to choose, will end
up with neither. A bit much. So let’s come up with a more, dare I say, poetic way of stating it: “She
wants to have her cake and to eat it, too." The first person who said that was not using a cliché. She
or he was simply using figurative language, and quite possibly, was thought of as being quite clever. Figurative
language is often the difference between some legalistic sounding tripe and something that sounds… well, good.
Of course, when people read something they like, they’re
tempted to use it again. And again. And again. And it transmogrifies from figurative language into a cliché. Notice
the accent mark. That should be the first clue. It’s French. It' s not so much that using clichés
is bad... well, it is... it’s just that, at best, clichés show no effort whatsoever at originality. And
originality is the hallmark of good writing (though Hallmark is not known for writing well). Take, for instance, the
cliché for getting up early in the morning: The crack of dawn. Anybody who uses that phrase obviously isn’t
trying very hard, especially when he could have said, “...before the rooster even got home from the bar."
Clichés can become automatic language, where you
string together phrases you haven’t given any thought to and have very little personally invested. You end up sounding
like a greeting card where you’ve picked someone else’s words to tell your wife how special she is on your anniversary. Or
a bad country music song. “You’re the love of my life, the woman I call wife. And I will lay it on the
line: I’ll love you ‘till the end of time."
The biggest problem with clichés, though, is that quite often they have stopped making any literal
sense whatsoever. Take our example above. What would be the point of having your cake if you couldn’t eat
it, too? Uneaten cake is perfectly useless. Did that ever make sense? Or, “When is enough enough?” That’s
easy: always. Or, “Look out!" Word of advice: If somebody is shooting at you, and someone
else says, “Look out,” seriously question how bad that person wants to keep you from getting shot.
Right off the bat, when you use a cliché you’re
telling your reader that you’re not pushing the envelope, you’re not stepping up to the plate, you’re not
thinking outside the box. What it boils down to is that you are using trite phrases without even thinking about what
you’re saying, which is the antithesis of writing. Bottom line: At all costs, avoid them like the plague.
What follows are some of our favourite clichés:
Bad Things Happen to Bad People
Count Your Blessings
Dead in Your Sleep
Don't Even Get Me Started
Dropping Like Flies
Due to the Fact That
Each and Every
Everybody is Unique
Everything Always Turns Out for the Best
The Facts Don't Lie
First and Foremost...
Gird your loins
The Grass Isn't Always Greener on the Other Side
Have Your Cake and Eat it Too
Head Over Heels
He Came Ready to Play
Hustle and Bustle
I Can Remember it Like it Was Yesterday
I'm Going to be Your Worst Nightmare
I'm Not Going to Lie
In Today's Society...
It Never Hurts to Ask
It's Better to be Safe than Sorry
I Would Have to Say That...
Last but Not Least
Life's Not Fair
Literally v. Figuratively
Money Doesn't Buy Happiness
Nooks and Crannies
A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity!
Peace and Tranquility
Practice Makes Perfect
Suits Me to a "T"
Think About It
Third Time's a Charm
Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life
Up the Creek without a Paddle
Vim and Vigor
Violence is Never the Answer
When Pigs Fly
A Whole New Can of Worms