Recently I read an article in which a mother gushed about how a school play enabled her child’s class to “be part of something bigger than themselves.”
Allergic to clichés, I turned to my husband and mused, “Maybe I should try to become part of something smaller than myself — but I guess I wouldn’t fit.” This made me think of the comic Steven Wright’s classic “You can’t have everything; where would you put it?”
One online source defines a cliché as a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. And while it’s almost a cliché to make a fuss about clichés, they really are a pet peeve of mine (oops, cliché).
I would like to focus on a few of my favorite clichés — oldies and newly minted — in an ultimately futile attempt to wake people up and beg for some originality. Because the worst thing about clichés is that they’re boring and, while perhaps once rich with meaning, have become meaningless. My reaction is often to roll my eyes so far up I think I’ll detach a retina. As academics and other lecturer-types like to say, let’s unpack this.
For example, in any conversation about something unfortunate that has befallen a child, someone inevitably says, “Kids are resilient.” As if all of the billions of kids on earth are the same. As if there are no psychologically, emotionally or physically damaged children or adults among us who have suffered from some trauma earlier in life. My husband has the best response to this one: “Resilient kids are resilient.”
Another favorite is when I hear someone reminisce, “We all got drunk every weekend, did drugs, watched too much TV, drove too fast and ate Twinkies till they came out of our ears. And we turned out okay.” I’m not so sure, having known people who did a lot of these and who have not really recovered. Not resilient enough I guess.
And then there’s “One picture is worth a thousand words.” Can you say “Photoshop?”
An unfortunate by-product of modern technology and the light-speed of electronic communication is that clichés can reach the status of excessive overuse — you should excuse the expression — in the blink of an eye. I’m particularly amused by the current zeal for “change agents,” because surely no one cares for “politics as usual.” Certainly we want to avoid “the same old same old.” As for me, I want to be a “thought leader.” I’m looking forward to aliens coming to Earth and commanding the first person they see, “Take me to your thought leader.” It’s important to stay on top of this stuff, because the early bird catches the worm.
On the lighter side of Planet Cliché are sports interviews. All sports interviews. Every sports interview ever given. “We really didn’t have our stuff today.” “The fans were behind us 100 percent.” “I think we’re gonna win this one.” “I saw that ball, and I just knew it was outta here.” “This is the greatest sports town ever.” “We’re gonna go out there and give it everything we’ve got.” “But first I want to say how well the other team played.” Which is why you have to love New England Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick’s monosyllabic responses to reporters’ questions.
I hate to bring up discussions of the weather because of the aforementioned worry about my retina, but I don’t think it’s the heat, it’s the humidity, don’t you? Besides, before you know it, it’ll be fall. I can’t believe we’re already halfway into August, can you? Where does the time go?
Which brings us to children. “Look how tall he got!” Well, people don’t tend to shrink until they’re my age. Once I was out with a friend, and we ran into a guy she knows who commented about my friend’s son, “He looks just like his father.” My friend’s son, light-skinned and blond, is adopted, and his father is from the Middle East. Well, enjoy them while you can. Before you know it, they’ll be off to college!
While we’re at it, let’s give a long sabbatical to the only two adjectives that seem to exist in print, online and in conversation: amazing and awesome. They have the honor of becoming one-word clichés, making me long for old chestnuts like “Hey, that’s great!”
And so, moving forward, at the end of the day, I just want to make sure we’re all are on the same page regarding clichés. If we can achieve true transparency, then we can begin to think outside the box. But, ultimately, it is what it is.
If you’re running out of things to say, you can always go to www.clichelist.net. It’s a real website. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up. So, all’s well that ends well. I hope this experience has made you feel (another favorite) empowered. Have a nice day!
— Ann Green
Ann Green is a freelance writer, editor, PR consultant and tutor.