A Heaping Helping Of Clichés

by John Caruso

I enjoy considering clichés. Of course I understand the certain death they bring to a piece of writing. However, in and of themselves they can be quite interesting. Consider that at some point, a cliché was good writing. It was an original thought. As a matter of fact, it was SO good that it was used ad nauseam.

Nouveau clichés (sounds a bit like an exotic fan dancer’s name, doesn’t it?) set the teeth on edge because they evoke the overdone of the moment. Think of any popular catch phrase. Now think how annoying it is on the downside of it’s popularity peak. At least classic clichés, those tried and true warhorses of language, have an outside chance of harkening back to a simpler time. They can even be fun if delivered with a hint of wry cynicism.

Pick a cliché, any cliché, and write it down. Look at it. Think about it. Analyze it. Why do you think it was used in the first place? What is it about that phrase that made it so good, so popular? Use it in a sentence or a paragraph. Don’t be shy, use it with pride! Now go back and re-write the sentence using a different configuration of words. How does the meaning change? Does your re-write make your sentence more specific, clear, and concise? Next, take your cliché and use it in a non-traditional way. For instance, let’s use “dry as a bone.” We are used to seeing it used like this: “with the recent drought, the fields were dry as a bone.” But what if we tweak the use of the word dry: “He tapped the filter end of an imported cigarette on his watch crystal before lighting up, then ordered a bone dry martini.” (Of course I understand that with the current martini craze, this use is quickly becoming—if it hasn’t already arrived as—a cliché in and of itself.)

Finally, go through your work and try to pinpoint those annoying clichés. Give them the heave ho. Your readers will thank you for it.

I’d better stop now before I wear out my welcome.

© 2002 by John Caruso

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