Clichés

Clichés are all around us. They may slip by unnoticed – but once you tune-in to clichés, you find them everywhere. And the more you notice them, the more irritating they become.

Clichés - Just say no!Do you speak in clichés and, worse still, do you use them in your writing?

A cliché is a well-worn phrase that has become meaningless through overuse. Clichés are all around us. They may slip by unnoticed – in our speech, in our reading or in our writing. But once you tune-in to clichés, you find them everywhere. And the more you notice them, the more irritating they become.

In my everyday language, here are the clichés I find myself using:

  • “I must say…” – Why? Why must I say it?
  • “At the end of the day….” – Oh lordy, why not at the beginning?
  • “To be honest….” – Because the rest of the time I am clearly lying?
  • “Clearly,” – I said clearly so I don’t have to explain it to you or justify it in any way.

I must say, about the abuse of the word “clearly”, the worst culprits are politicians. At the end of the day, they clearly believe it gives the impression, that what they are saying MUST be undeniably correct which, to be honest, is unlikely.

I am a secret fan of Neighbours, the Australian soap opera. In a recent episode two of the women characters were about to give birth and I was really surprised by the authenticity of the labour scenes. (Many years ago, one Neighbours character called Daphne managed to deliver her first baby within 10 minutes of labour starting, without any blood or muck and, astonishingly, without even taking her knickers off!) My contented surprise was shattered, however, when one of the male characters uttered the immortal soap-opera phrase. “She’s in the hands of the doctors now.” Yuck. My cliché detector went into overdrive.

So here are a few of my least favourite TV clichés:

  • “We need to talk.”
  • “I’ll always be there for you.”
  • “Leave it. She/he ain’t worth it.”
  • “We’ve got 5 minutes/24 hours/1 week to save the world!”

Clichés are not a modern phenomenon, as demonstrated by an old Punch cartoon, first printed in 1885:

Cliches from Punch, 1885

Let’s avoid clichés and banish them from our writing. They’ll always be trying to sneak back so we need to be vigilant. At the end of the day, there’s always a better way to say something – a way that is unique and original. To be honest, who wants to hear/read the same old worn-out phrases. Give them a rest. Clearly, we should/must/will do better.

Leave ’em. They ain’t worth it.



Wikipedia gives a definition of clichés here.

Author: Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, Doctor, woman, etc.

7 thoughts on “Clichés”

  1. Ruth, you’ve finally convinced me. Up until now I loved cliches, I speak in them, in fact I was brought up with them. That cartoon is funny. Oh, I’ve already posted a letter to a magazine speaking up for cliches now I’m not sure….

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    1. Well, I think there is a time and place for cliches. We use them in our everyday language and we can seem rude if we don’t warm up our listener with some verbal fluff before we get to the important part of our communication.

      Would be interested in reading your magazine letter. Hope it gets published.

      Why not write a blog post on ‘why cliches aren’t all bad’ or ‘sticking up for cliches’ or something similar?

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  2. Cliches, like routines, are very helpful in that they allow us to avoid thinking. But they are a menace for the same reason. Speakers often use them when they’re under stress, because they are naturally the first thing you think of. Generally, people are not conscious of the language they use and so don’t even realize they are speaking in cliches. It’s a very easy step from using a worn-out expression to repeating worn-out ideas – usually very conservative ideas. Cliches in words; cliches in thoughts. Bringing consciousness to the way we speak – and think – is a very good idea, and your article has helped remind us of this. Cliches are distinct from collocations, which are simply common phrases that allow us to understand each other and are often involve plays in sound or meaning. Many of the worst cliches are figures of speech. But some figures of speech, even though used a billion times, retain their power, and so it would be unfair to call them cliches. Some are completely out of date (e.g. in the technology they refer to), but still in daily use. This is an area – you may have guessed – that interests me a lot!

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