“Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.” ~ William Safire ~
For 30-years, in addition to his political commentaries, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist William Safire was a master etymologist and grammarian whose column, “On Language” was read weekly in the New York Times Magazine.
Safire’s humorous quote that opened this post has been embraced as gospel by writers everywhere, and has been printed on everything from bumper stickers to t-shirts. Any journalist or novelist who peppers prose with clichés is presumed by his peers to be an amateur, or worse - a lazy writer.
Sometimes however, nothing says it better and faster, or with a minimum of fuss than a good old-fashioned cliché. In my humble opinion, a cliché is “conversational” and hits a verbal homerun without need for additional interpretation.
In everyday one-on-one discourse, I have used numerous clichés. Here are some of my favorites:
“It’s like an Albatross around the neck.”
“Why would you want to pour the baby out with the bathwater?”
“I bet you’ll have to bend over backwards to get that accomplished!”
“I never look a gift horse in the mouth.”
“I think she’ll turn over a new leaf.”
“People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.”
“I’m at wits' end!”
“I draw the line at that type of behavior!”
“They’re as close as two peas in a pod.”
“I’m between a rock and a hard place.”
“He’s going to go postal when he hears what happened.”
“It’s all Greek to me.”
“When it rains it pours!”
“It’s like putting a square peg in a round hole.”
For those of you who enjoy using clichés, or simply want to avoid them like the plague, here is a fun website to checkout – Steven Morgan Friedman’s Cliché Finder, where (at minimum) if you’re a fan of clichés, you will find an index of over 3,300 of the best examples, perfect for verbal use and abuse.
The word cliché is not just relegated to trite or hackneyed sentences or phrases, but the word is also awarded to anything that has become commonplace through overuse – even music and art, hence the picture of Mona Lisa (above) that has come to represent Leonardo Da Vinci’s most celebrated painting.
The video below (thanks to BoredomStrikesU's YouTube Channel) demonstrates music that everyone has probably heard at some point in their life, be it in an elevator, a doctor’s office, watching cartoons and feature films, or while on-hold waiting to speak to an agent from the Internal Revenue Service.
You may not recognize these musical gems by title or composer, but as soon as you hear anyone of these…
1. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik-Mozart
2. Symphony No. 5, 1st mvt-Beethoven
3. Rondo Alla Turca-Mozart
4. William Tell Overature-Rossini
5. Für Elise-Beethoven
6. Blue Danube Waltz-J. Strauss
7. Moonlight Sonata-Beethoven
8. Minuet(from Quintet No. 11)- Boccherini
10. The Barber of Seville (Overature)-Rossini
11. Dance of the Hours- Ponchielli
12. Also Sprach Zarathustra-R. Strauss
13. Hoedown(from Rodeo)-Copland
14. Prelude to Act 1. (Los Toreadores)-Bizet
15. Adagio for Strings-Barber
16. Classical Gas- Mason Williams
The only tune I think should have been on this list and wasn’t - Pachebel’s Canon in D.
What’s your favorite cliché and classic over-used tune?