Watch Out for Pesky Clichés!

One of the most important things I have learned about communication is being aware of cliché.  It easily creeps into our speech and writing, whether it is business communication, casual conversation, or formal writing and presentation. It usually shows up because of laziness, but thankfully it is easy to identify and eliminate. When I’m writing about food or wine, I’m concentrating on the subject matter, not the mechanics of my writing. The first edit typically eliminates pesky clichés that tried to sneak into the post, but they tend to re-appear and I always have to be diligent (I almost said “have to be on the ball” instead of diligent! See what I mean?).

Communication in the world of wine is also susceptible to cliché and the most obvious one is “cheers!” I admittedly still use it too often and it would be much more effective, and thoughtful, to simply skip that word while clinking wine glasses and actually say “thank you for joining us” or “I am honored to dine with you this evening.” How about eliminating the cliché and saying something original?

Many forms of speech contribute to cliché: similes, maxims, adages, aphorisms, truisms, allegories, metaphors, epigrams, and proverbs, among others. Being aware of them is the first step in limiting them in our communication. I say “limit” because there may be appropriate uses of a simile or an aphorism or whatever you may choose to make a point. I am not a member of the cliché police and do not pretend to be cliché free. I am simply sharing one of the curious aspects of writing for me. I thought it might be fun and useful to explore a list of these forms of speech and their definitions. Let’s start with the actual meaning of cliché:

cliché
1. a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser,  or strong as an ox.
2. (in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, character development, use of color, musical expression, etc.
3. anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse.

adage
a traditional saying expressing a common experience or observation; proverb.
(a couple of old adages: “If the shoe fits, wear it,” “Out of the frying pan, into the fire”)

allegory
1. a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.
2. a symbolical narrative: the allegory of Piers Plowman.

aphorism
a terse saying embodying a general truth, or astute observation, as “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton). “A promise not to change is a promise not to grow.”

apothegm
a short, pithy, instructive saying; a terse remark or aphorism.
(Oscar Wilde’s apothegm “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.”)

colloquialism
1. a word or phrase appropriate to conversation and other informal situations.
2. the use of colloquial words and phrases.

epigram
1. any witty, ingenious, or pointed saying tersely expressed.
2. epigrammatic expression: Oscar Wilde had a genius for epigram.
3. a short, often satirical poem dealing concisely with a single subject and usually ending with a witty or ingenious turn of thought.

maxim
1. an expression of a general truth or principle, especially an aphoristic or sententious one: the maxims of La Rochefoucauld.
2. a principle or rule of conduct. (“Be fast but do not hurry.”– John Wooden)

metaphor
1. a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “A mighty fortress is our God.” Compare mixed metaphor/simile.
2. something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol.

proverb
1. a short popular saying, usually of unknown and ancient origin, that expresses effectively some commonplace truth or useful thought; adage; saw.
2. a wise saying or precept; a didactic sentence.
3. a person or thing that is commonly regarded as an embodiment or representation of some quality; byword.
4. Bible: a profound saying, maxim, or oracular utterance requiring interpretation.

simile
1. a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared, as in “she is like a rose.”
2. an instance of such a figure of speech or a use of words exemplifying it.

truism
a self-evident, obvious truth.
(“The apple never falls far from the tree.” (Goes to genetics.))

I compiled this list over time and was always pleased to add another one. I’m sure I have missed a few; please let me know if you have some additions. I welcome your comments and contributions.

(All definitions are from Dictionary.com)

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~ by Thomas on May 28, 2012.

One Response to “Watch Out for Pesky Clichés!”

  1. wow, you really hit a homerun with this post.

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