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Clichéd clichés

Full disclosure:  I’m on vacation as of end of business tomorrow.  I need this vacation like oxygen.   As a matter of fact, my brain is functioning as if it’s a bit oxygen starved right about now.

As a result of being vacation/oxygen deprived for so long, I’ve been finding myself spouting things like “it is what it is” or “we need to think outside the box” or “money doesn’t grow on trees” instead of providing well thought out, intelligent commentary to questions posed by clients, co-workers, and my five-year-old.  Clearly, I need to go off and relax a bit so that I can come back refreshed and stop speaking in clichés.

Then I saw this piece in the HuffPost and remembered reading a historical romance recently where the author used a wink, wink variation of “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  Anachronistic? Yes.  Annoying cliché? Yes.  Funny?  Mildly.

Thing is, sometimes only a cliché will do (and sometimes repetition is a wonderful literary and oratory device, and sometimes using dialect in a novel is not a criminal offense, but very rarely are those things deployed with enough brilliance and verve to be effective) mostly, however, they make my teeth ache from excessive grinding.  Writing well is all about expressing ideas, feelings, emotions, storylines, character development, in original and fresh ways.  Using clichés instead of coining a new phrase is about as lazy as you can get as a writer and speaker, in my opinion.

What are your favorite clichés and which ones do you find most egregiously used and misused?

11 Responses to Clichéd clichés

  1. Business cliches are my bane. Or grantwriting cliches. Phrases like “key ingredient” “major factor” “crucial need” etc. Stuff that sounds portentous and give-me-money-ish.

    I have one colleague who is utterly sticky for the latest business slang. Lately, for her it is “optics.” Ie, “Well, that’s just the organizational optics.” What?

    enjoy your vacation!

  2. M. Caliban says:

    Favorite: “Teaching grandma to suck eggs.”

  3. Tamara says:

    Is the word “ginormous” a cliche yet? I sure hope so and that it soon “goes the way of the dodo.” :-)

  4. Catherine Whitney says:

    The other day I found myself writing these words: “They swallowed it hook, line and sinker.” Horrified, I stopped writing, poured a glass of wine, and then I was better.

  5. Miriam says:

    Oh, business cliches are the worst, Maril. I remember when my husband started using “optics” in normal human conversation. Worst part is that cliches are sticky and no matter how diligent you are about keeping it clean, you resort to them time and again. Catherine, wine makes everything better…

  6. Stephen says:

    I’ll third the motion that business cliches are horribad. I had a boss once who was a proponent of everything good, who campaigned for synergy and wanted us all “on the bus!” I think, in my latest attempt at a great best-seller, that I kept my cliche-wielding to a minimum, and even then I only used them in an ironic tone in a scene meant to make the reader chuckle. We’ll see, I guess.

    In any event, I know what you mean about vacations and oxygen; I’m at about the same place. Have a great vacation!

  7. Teri Carter says:

    “The whole ten yards.” Ughs.

    If you’re on vacation and you haven’t read Barbara Kingsolver’s THE LACUNA, run out and buy it immediately. Best book I’ve read in a year.

  8. Anna St. George says:

    It is hard to stay cliche free while writing, especially when you are in the moment, having a good run on your words. As Whitney found, they can just sneak in there without thought. Should it stay or should it go? When it fits, it fits…

  9. While we’re on annoying cliches, especially business cliches or wacky words, I’ve learned to hate the word “transitioning.” I see so many emails with phrases like, “I will be transitioning to the other office in the afternoon.” How about a more straight-up phrasing like, “I have a stupid meeting at this other place, so I’ll get there when I get there.” The former is lame; the latter, I respect. Okay, so “I’ll get there when I get there” is also a cliche, but it’s not MBA-ese.

    Have you heard the phrase, “sense of urgency”? It used to be “raising the level of anxiety” (as if that were a good thing!) Every time I hear we should be “serving our client base” with a “sense of urgency”, I envision my co-workers waddling around the office holding their crotches as if they have to go really, really bad.

  10. Cheryl says:

    I think there’s also a big difference between colloquialisms and cliches, too. To me, when I read a book that has a character saying things only said in certain regions, that’s really showing me something about who they are (and I’ll admit to comparing colloquialisms, I think my husband says them all and loves to make up new ones…) and where the come from. For example, there are certain phrases or ways words are put together that only someone from southern indiana would say. To me, a character saying, “Hornier than two peckered billy goat” is way more than a simple cliche. You know someone is from the south when they come up with these weird sayings. A saying like this goes way more to developing a character than saying something like “pass the buck” or another such boring and useless cliche.

    I strive to protect the colloquialism from being lumped with cliches. :)

  11. Brutal Stuff, still I would have to report that with the abundance of views it can be been with them can be desirability meditating about trying to help the spelling and also the english! Designed a terribly good read though, great stuff.

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