I’ve been noticing lately that I use a lot of clichés. Warned about them constantly by my Journalism Professor, Mr. Lawrence, and by Tony Hillerman, the successful mystery author, who was a member of the Journalism faculty at the University of New Mexico. I had the pleasure of taking several classes Mr. Hillerman taught, one being the “Art of Editorial Writing.” I’m almost certain that I never learned the “art” but I do remember seeing the circled phrases on my editorials with a line out to the margin and the word “cliché” written in red ink, a lot of times. Professor Hillerman hated clichés.
Cliché- obviously a French word because of the little accent mark that makes the e sound like an a – is defined as “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.” I’m not so sure I like it being called trite, but I know the reason I use so many clichés is my lack of originality, ingenuity and impact. Need to work on that.
I’ll have to keep my nose to the grindstone, but not make a mountain out of a mole hill. But when I use a cliché and I notice it, I can get madder than a wet hen at myself. To make a long story short, I started thinking about this, like I said, and thought I should do something to stem the tide. If I stick to my guns, I should be able to put a dent in it at least. Somehow I think I’m fighting a losing battle, and am a far cry from making the grade. I mean, I went to college a long time ago, so I guess I just missed the boat on this one.
I’m pretty sure if I look at boycotting the use of clichés in my prose, I might not have anything to string into a sentence. At worst it won’t flow in concrete sentences. So I’ll have to lay my cards on the table, make my mark, let the cat out of the bag and lick my wounds. Like a dog lost in high weeds. Like it’s going out of style. Like white on rice. A loose cannon.
You see the reason I use clichés a lot is they are often used for comic effect, mostly in fiction, and I’m trying to be funny, often. Salvador Dali – also French I guess because of the accent over the i so it sounds like an e – said “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”
And that’s the problem; repetition of a phrase that was originally very clever. The rest of us rather unclever people just repeat clever things other people say, over and over and over. That makes them a cliché. I just like saying that word. Cliché is a French word, as I mentioned, that refers to a printing plate of removable type. The printer would have to set letters one at a time, so it would be easier and quicker to cast phrases that were used a lot instead of just single letters. It it also called a stereotype. From there it’s not much of a stretch to see how the ready-made phrases of printing type came to mean the overused phrases in language. See I did it again.
Hey, did you see where they “captured” James “Whitey” Bulger? Got him in Santa Monica California in an apartment building where he was living with his girlfriend. Whitey has been on the FBI’s ten most wanted list for 19 years, but he was on the FBI payroll for a longer time as an “informant”. He informed on the other mob bosses in Boston to put them out of business. I’m about as impressed with his capture is I was with the number one person on the FBI list, Osama Bin Laden. Whitey was number two. He’s 81 years old. Probably didn’t even think about trying to outrun the cops. And the beauty of it – there I go again – is that it was his girlfriend that got him caught. She was a looker and when the FBI ran a local ad campaign for information they used her picture. People recognized her.
Somebody just referred to what I was doing as being a “bump on a log”. Do you know what that cliché means? It means I’m lazy or don’t want to work. Hey wait, that kind of fits. Next time we’ll talk about euphemisms – not.