Find a new cliche


Like a vending machine sandwich, clichés are convenient when low on time or energy. But while the former threatens only your stomach, indulging in cliché gives the rest of the world gas. If you care about meaning, you must find the time, you must find the energy, and dang it, you must find a new cliché.

The word “cliché” is a chunk of French, an onomatopoeia evoking the sound of a stereotyped block in a typesetter’s shop. A means to crank out a ready-made phrase (literally), instead of placing type letter by letter.

A cliché as figure of speech is designed to crank out meaning with speed. Every convenience comes at a cost.

That is because meaning is fluid. The phrase “fit as a fiddle,” started its life as “fine as a fiddle,”

“Then comes downe mistresse Nurse as fine as a farthing fiddle, in her petticoate and kertle.”–The Batchelars Banquet, 1603

Then shifted to mean “fit for purpose,”

“This is excellent ynfayth [in faith], as fit as a fiddle.”–English-men for my Money, 1616

And puddled into something meaning healthy:

“The pope has largely been fit as a fiddle during a pandemic marked by an illness that preys on the respiratory system and on the elderly.”—Fox News, 2021

Ready-to-wear is no substitute for tailored garb, and an expression from 1603 is moldy bologna in this era without petticoates and kertles.

Clichés are constructed of truth, but seldom the particular truths you mean to convey. It’s OK to steal a boost from the poets of yore, but you are a poet too. Revel in the ardor of casting your own stereotypes and when you’re done, enjoy smashing the mold to pieces too.

Skip any monstrosity from a coin-operated box. Make it your mantra to find a new cliché.