In this lesson we explore the cliche. A cliche is an overused, worn-out word or phrase and can also be an idiom, a phrase that is figurative, not literal.
Although cliches should be avoided in writing, there is a place for them in the English language.
What Is a Cliché?
Clichés are generally worn-out words or phrases that have lost their distinctiveness simply by overuse. However, we use clichés, nonetheless. The idea is to use them sparingly, particularly in our writing.
Words such as ‘beautiful,’ ‘wonderful,’ ‘nice,’ and ‘special,’ are examples of simple clichés. It is true that these words convey a vague, general idea of what the speaker or writer is referring to, but none of these words serves as an adequate description of a person, place, thing or idea (a noun).Let’s say we are trying to describe a sunset. If we say, ‘Oh! What a wonderful sunset,’ we get the vague idea that it is a lovely sunset, but we don’t know what it looks like.
Is the sky painted in pinks and oranges? Does the sun look like an enormous ball of fire on the horizon of the lapping, icy sea? When we really want people to know what we are trying to express, we need to use imagery. Imagery involves painting pictures with our words. Instead of using vague clichés, we become better writers when we use very specific words to describe what we are trying to say.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Phrases like ‘what goes around, comes around’ are generalizations about life and do fall under the definition of clichés. Again, we get the idea of what that phrase means, but it really does beat around the bush. In fact, it is difficult to always look on the bright side of life, but life happens.You just heard examples of four clichés, and we can see how difficult it is to pin down the meaning.
That is one major problem with clichés. They lose their distinct meaning over time. It is far better for writers to take time to specifically say what they need to say. It is best to be as descriptive as possible. However, there is a legitimate place for phrases such as the ones you just heard, if they are used sparingly.
Clichés and Idioms
Because clichés are phrases used so often that they become part of our language, certain phrases become idioms.
An idiom is a phrase that should not be taken literally. The meaning of the phrase is deeper than the words indicate on the surface. Many such clichés or idioms, have interesting stories behind them.
Let’s take the phrase ‘that’s a piece of cake,’ which means something is very easy to do. Apparently, in the middle of the 19th century, dancers would compete by using complex moves, and the winners would receive a cake as a reward. Over the years, people forgot about the origin but continued to use the phrase, which has endured to this day. Idioms are useful clichés, but again, should not be overused.
Clich;s are worn-out words or phrases that have lost their distinctiveness simply by overuse. Although clich;s are an inevitable part of the English language, overusing words can cause our spoken and written communication to lose its effectiveness. Clich;s should be used like salt. A little salt is flavorful, but too much spoils the soup. In much the same way, it is best to communicate as clearly as possible and to use descriptive, fresh, and vivid language, especially in our writing.
Too many clich;s, like salt, can make writing lose its flavor.