Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cliches - Part 2

by Conroy

Don't Reinvent the Wheel

I love cliches. I love speaking them as commentary on daily life, using them to communicate common but powerful truths, relying on them to simplify the complex thoughts I yearn to articulate. Does this mean that my writing, and by extension my thinking, is hackneyed and limited? By failing to explore new metaphors or unconventional word syntax does my writing lack the dynamism and inventiveness of a truly accomplished writer? I say emphatically - NO!

No, cliches are not unoriginal and stale drivel to be discarded and derided, but a valuable tool in any writer's (or speaker's) repertoire. Is there a better way to reduce complicated ideas into digestible and easily understood components? Is there a better way to communicate quickly and clearly? Doesn't a cliche used well, or dare I write - originally, add to the enjoyment of reading?

What better way to to explain the unique burdens of a life then, 'everyone has their cross to bear'? Are there another six words that can encapsulate this part of the human condition? How about a better five words to summarize the responsibilities and bonds of family then, 'blood is thicker than water'? Or a central and perhaps unsettling reality of this universe, 'better to be lucky than good'?

Much of the contempt for cliches may come from confusion with cliched writing. Writing that is derivative, regurgitates tired ideas, over-simplifies the complex, or states the obvious. Cliched writing is lazy, it fails to inform, it insults the reader's intelligence. It's fiction instead of literature.

Cliched writing is waste. Cliches are value. Let's not get the two confused.


Here are some of my favorite cliches (not counting the ones cited above):
  • 'Nothing lasts forever' and 'Everyone has to lose sometime'. I especially like to keep these in mind when it comes to sports.
  • 'The grass is always greener on the other side' and 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush'. Readers of my first post will already know of my belief that the lure of what we may have can overpower the reality of what we do have.
  • 'Hope springs eternal'. Also in my first post, there are few things more human than our innate resiliency.
  • 'The perfect is the enemy of the good'. Perfection is impossible, and in seeking it we can lose all of the good results that are possible.
  • 'All's well that ends well'. Always liked the sound and sentiment of this expression. When times get stressful things can be done and said that cause resentment, but if things work out in the end, most slights can be forgiven.
  • 'Once in a blue moon'. For some reason I think the occurrence of a blue moon is really fascinating. I'm in the annoying habit of explaining what a blue moon is whenever this expression is uttered (even by me) or when I have Blue Moon beer.
  • 'Road to ruin is paved with good intentions'. So often intentions are immaterial to results - sometimes disastrous results.
  • 'Black as pitch', 'Down in the mouth''Missed the boat', 'Once bitten, twice shy', 'Shuffle off this mortal coil', and 'Whistle past the graveyard'. Just like the way these sound, read, and the ideas they express.

What cliches do you love to use?

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