What is a Cliché?
I get many suggestions of cliches to add to this list -- sometimes as many as a few hundred a day. As such, I consider myself quite experienced in identifying cliches. And, reading all these suggestions, I've realized something of late: too many people don't know what cliches are.
Just look at some recent suggestions I've gotten for the list:
Answer: a lot. A cliche is not just something that lots of people say; It's something that lots of people say and it conveys some sort of idea or message. A cliche is, in other words, a metaphor characterized by its overuse.
I have my own test to see if a phrase is a cliche or not. I read the first half of the sentence, then I ask myself, "do I just know (because everyone knows) how the sentence ends?" Someone recently submitted, "The gene pool could use a little chlorine." I knew this wasn't a cliche because when I say, "The gene pool could use what?" I don't know how to end the sentence.
Some visitors to this site have agreed with me.
A few weeks ago, a well-intentioned man added the word "Serendipity" to this list, and, when I finalized the suggestions that week, I missed that one. A Web surfer e-mailed me to point this out. "Let's remember that what characterizes a cliche is its trite connotation," he said. "'Serendipity,' although a widely-used term, I think does not constitute a cliche because it conveys a very specific meaning and idea which could not be expressed by substituting for any other word." And I think he was right on mark.
Or lets take another visitor to this site, who wrote me, "To me a cliche is very different to a saying, as you have many on your list. Cliche is a Grand truth that doesn't help anyone."
Or another visitor, who wrote,
Definition of cliche: that's easy. A cliche is a vivid depiction of an abstract matter that works by means of analogy and/or exaggeration.
Or yet another, who rather eloquently suggested that, "A cliche is an analogy characterized by its overuse. It may be true ('Fat as a pig'), no longer true ('work like a dog') or inscrutible ('right as rain'), but it has been overused to the point that its sole function is to mark its user as a lazy thinker." Expressions you and your friends make-up one afternoon can't be cliches for this very reason.
It's harder to say what isn't a cliche than what is. Let me know if you do have any suggestions.
Return to the Cliche Finder