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.
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 have really enjoyed Stephen Fry’s series on the English Language. Fry’s Planet Word has been showing on BBC2 every Sunday night.
Here is the latest (and last) one in the brief series of five programs. Grab it on iPlayer before it disappears – Fry’s Planet Word: The Power and the Glory.
Although it got off to a slow beginning (in my view), the series soon warmed up and makes fascinating viewing for writers and for readers. Five episodes are not enough. More please, Mr Fry.
Recently, as part of my Open University course, ‘Start Writing Fiction’, I have been encouraged to look out for – and look up the meaning of – new words.
I used to read a great deal when I was young. And I mean, a great deal. Between the ages of 10 and 14, I probably read at least a book a week, and at one point I was reading a book a day. Having worked my way through the children’s section of the library, I started on the adult sections.
Admittedly, I often did not understand what I was reading. Rarely did I bother to look up new words. I just kept on reading and, eventually, through the context of their settings, I would get to understand what a word meant, including its various nuances of meaning.
Nowadays, when reading modern fiction, I rarely come across a word I have never met before. But recently, as part of my Open University course, ‘Start Writing Fiction’, I have been encouraged to look out for – and look up the meaning of – new words.
So here are two words I came across this morning while reading Solar by Ian McEwan:
- proscenium: originally meaning the area under the arch in front of a stage in the theatre, now meaning the space between the front curtain and the first backdrop curtain. The word comes from the Latin and means ‘in front of the scenery’.
- amanuensis: a scribe or copier of manuscripts, someone who copies writing by hand. Originally it comes from the Latin for hand servant or slave of the hand, depending how literally you translate it.
This was a new word for me: numismatics, the study of coins.
And the related word numismatists, people who study or collect coins.
I found this word in one of Stephen King’s short stories (just finished reading Full Dark, No Stars) and was surprised I had never come across it before, despite coin collectors being commonplace. If I had to guess the meaning, I would have guessed it had something to do with numbers or maths. I suppose coins are connected to numbers.
What’s in a name? We believe, of course, that we make choices in our lives from our own free will and, as a result of those choices we have some control over our own destinies. But do we?
An aptronym is, according to Wikipedia, ‘a name aptly suited to its owner’.
There is a wonderful list on the Wikipedia page. I won’t repeat them all here, but I can’t resist listing some of my favourite real aptronym names.
- Russell Brain – neurologist (doctor who is a brain expert)
- Margaret Court – a tennis player
- Bernard Madoff – who ‘made off’ with billions of pounds of investors money
Are names important?
My father was born in Yorkshire. His family had no connection to medicine, nor to the church and had never travelled abroad. They didn’t know any missionaries or explorers. Neither were they related to the family of the famous missionary explorer, Dr David Livingstone.
But they named my father David Livingstone. Did they realise the significance of that name?
Would you be surprised to know that my father attended theology college, became a missionary, and spent 10 years in East Africa?
My own name is Ruth Livingstone and, although I hope I have not become truly ruthless, I have become a medical doctor. Hence my name is now ‘Doctor Livingstone’.
So, between my father and myself, we have recreated all the key ingredients of the name ‘Doctor David Livingstone’ – including the connection with Africa, missionary work and medical qualifications.
We believe, of course, that we make choices in our lives from our own free will and, as a result of those choices we have some control over our own destinies.
But do we?
While on the subject of names, here are some interesting sites:
- Name Structures – report card based on your name.
- And a related article in The Sunday TimesThe names that will get your baby into Oxbridge, July 31, 2007.
- The top 100 baby names in America on BabyNamesGarden.com.
- Or have a laugh at the 50 craziest celebrity baby names, again from the Sunday Times, July 24, 2007.