Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Are you sitting on the fence about using clichés? Here are 101 reasons to quit cold turkey!

Myra here. Today we’re talking about clichés, the bane of a writer’s existence. We’ve all used them, both in our everyday conversations and in our manuscripts. Clichés are comfortable as an old shoe, phrases we use in a heartbeat because the meanings are usually crystal clear. Clichés roll off the tongue (or onto the keyboard) like water off a duck’s back.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with clichés. They’re just . . . tired. Stale. Overused.

Admit it--clichés are an excuse to be lazy in our communication, and as writers we owe our readers better than that. Not to mention the difficulty clichés and other such idioms present to readers who may not speak our brand of English.

So if you must use a cliché in your manuscript, make sure you’re doing it with intentionality. You may be writing about a character for whom speaking in clichés has become a personality quirk. In deep POV narrative, sometimes a cliché comes across as perfectly natural or even expected. If at all possible, however, give the cliché an interesting twist. For example, not simply “a bur under his saddle,” but “a thorn bush the size of a Texas tumbleweed.”

Now it’s time to put on your thinking caps. Below you’ll find a list of 101 clichés. Choose a few and suggest simpler, clearer, or more creative alternatives.

I’ll start you off with a couple of examples.

  1. bad apple--degenerate, troublemaker, the very last boy you’d want dating your teenage daughter
  2. ball of fire--dynamo, high achiever, a car salesman who’s slapping the sold sign on your trade-in before you’ve driven your new car off the lot
  3. barrel of laughs
  4. by a whisker
  5. by the same token
  6. cold fish
  7. cushion the blow
  8. dead in the water
  9. down to earth
  10. drop in the bucket
  11. eat like a bird
  12. egg on one’s face
  13. every trick in the book
  14. fade into the sunset
  15. fight like cats and dogs
  16. fly off the handle
  17. free as a bird
  18. green around the gills
  19. guilty as sin
  20. hale and hearty
  21. hang on every word
  22. happy as a lark
  23. haul over the coals
  24. high on the hog
  25. hit the jackpot
  26. hold the fort
  27. hungry as a bear
  28. in a heartbeat
  29. in a pig’s eye
  30. in hot water
  31. jump down her throat
  32. just what the doctor ordered
  33. keep a stiff upper lip
  34. keep the faith
  35. kick the bucket
  36. last but not least
  37. lay an egg
  38. leave no stone unturned
  39. like clockwork
  40. lock, stock, and barrel
  41. look before you leap
  42. make a mountain out of a molehill
  43. make tracks
  44. mind like a steel trap
  45. muddy the waters
  46. nothing to sneeze at
  47. nuttier than a fruitcake
  48. off her rocker
  49. off the wall

  50. on pins and needles
  51. on thin ice
  52. out of the blue
  53. out on a limb
  54. parting of the ways
  55. pick of the litter
  56. plain as day
  57. play it by ear
  58. put on airs
  59. put up or shut up
  60. quick as a flash
  61. quiet as a mouse
  62. quit while you’re ahead
  63. read between the lines
  64. ready, willing, and able
  65. rest on one’s laurels
  66. rob Peter to pay Paul
  67. round peg in a square hole
  68. run of the mill
  69. school of hard knocks
  70. second to none
  71. shoot the breeze
  72. sick as a dog
  73. signed, sealed, and delivered
  74. small potatoes
  75. sour grapes
  76. sow his wild oats
  77. straddle the fence
  78. sweep under the rug
  79. take with a grain of salt
  80. thin as a reed
  81. throw the book at
  82. tickled pink
  83. time will tell
  84. toss and turn
  85. turn a blind eye to
  86. under the weather
  87. under the gun
  88. up a creek
  89. up to my eyeballs
  90. viselike grip
  91. wake up and smell the coffee
  92. waste not, want not
  93. water under the bridge
  94. wet behind the ears
  95. when push comes to shove
  96. white as a sheet
  97. whole nine yards
  98. wipe the slate clean
  99. without further ado
  100. you can’t take it with you
  101. you get what you pay for

Did you have a ghost of an idea there were so many clichés? Believe me, these are only a drop in the bucket! Why, I could have gone on from dawn till dusk!

Don’t go off the deep end, but which clichés make your hair curl? Toss them to the curb and you could be singing a different tune. You may feel like a square peg in a round hole at first, but if you rake that manuscript over the coals and do a clean sweep of those pesky clichés, every Tom, Dick, and Harry will sit up and take notice.

So don’t beat around the bush. Tell it like it is, and one lucky commenter can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a copy of The Dimwit’s Dictionary, by Robert Hartwell Fiske. Fiske’s compendium of “dimwitticisms” will help you polish your prose and weed out those worn-out words and phrases.

109 comments:

Helen Gray said...

I'm twitching like I'm sitting on a cactus (on pins & needles)waiting to see who wins this giveaway.

Cliche #102
Coffee's on!

Mary Cline said...

Well, if that don't beat all.

If I do, and win that book I will be as happy as a clam.

Debra E. Marvin said...

Cliches blend in so nicely. We really need to have cliché glasses to pop on so they show up in a red on the page.

Maybe they can make an app for that...

The worst clches are the ones that are so boring you don't know they are cliches. At least if you're going to be a cliche, be big and bold and make people cringe.

...I think I'll go looking in my WIP for one and report later.
Thanks Helen. Yours could have been wake up and smell the coffee... Mmmmm smells great!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

I love cliches when they're in a character's mode of speak... Like an old woman who always speaks in cliches or adages.

That cracks me up because I know so many old people like that! Or the ones who MESS THEM UP, kind of like they do with Ziva on NCIS. Again, funny and easily understood.

I think I'm guilty as charged. :) And I'm also guilty of repetitiveness so if I find a cliche that fits, I overuse it. Myra, clearly I needed this post!

Eggnog today. With the coffee. It's actually delicious IN THE COFFEE!!! :)

And candy-bar-layered brownies. I used dark chocolate candy bars with glazed cinnamon pecans in the center of the brownies. You can take it with a grain of salt, but these are like the best things since sliced bread!



Annie Rains said...

I'm not sure if this is actually considered a cliche or not: her knees went weak. OR her heart skipped a beat. I'm guilty of having written those words before, but I always delete them and reach for something better if I find them.

Eggnog coffee? Yum!

CaraG said...

I laughed aloud at your wrap up. So much fun reading that.

Until I did NaNoWriMo(and finished- a first, thanks to Seekerville- just had to add that), I never realized how quickly those pesky cliches popped to mind. I had to leave them then because they did prove useful during a time crunch to point me in the right direction for the later rewrites.

Please enter me in the drawing. It's the kind of book I obviously need.

gilliach(at)yahoo(dot)com

P J Ryley said...

Same here, Cara. I would cringe even as I found myself throwing in the cliches during NaNoWriMo, but, hey, I finished for the first time this year too. So, cliches are useful in an emergency but I hope I can do better in my rewrites.

I love even the name of this book. Enter me in the drawing too.

pj [at] pjryley [dot]com

Rose said...

I try, try, try not to use cliche's. If I find one in my writing, I usually rework the sentence or emotions but old habits die hard!

Janet Dean said...

Myra, your post put a smile on my face. I try to twist idioms when I can. Or hit delete, but frankly, they fit the bill and attract me like bees to honey.

I have a dictionary that dates when an expression came into usuage. If the characters in my historicals are going to say them, I need to be sure the expression was in usuage at the time of my story.

Janet

Jeanne T said...

Such a fun post, Myra. And NO! I had no idea there were so many cliches! I try not to use them in my writing, but a few probably slip in. Thankfully, my crit partners keep my feet to the fire when it comes to chopping them out of my ms. :)

"make a mountain out of a molehill"--One idea I had for this one was something along the lines of, "She had turned the issue into Mount Everest." Or something along those lines.

Sometimes I try to make paraprosdokians out of cliches if I'm having trouble totally eliminating them. :)

Mmmm, Ruthy--eggnog--in coffee? Two of my absolute faves!

Please put me in the drawing. :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

P.J. and CARA!!!!

Super happy-dancing for youse both!

Oh my stars, you finished NANOWRIMO!!!!

I'm just jigging, I'm so stinkin' delighted!!!!

YAY YOU!!!!!

Misty Russon said...

Cute as a baby in a buggy...

karenk said...

i loved this posting :)

karenk
kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Mary Connealy said...

Twice yesterday in my edits I found 'she watched him like a hawk.'

A bit of that is okay but it can so easily be overused.

And I found this.

He stood there with his arms crossed, stubborn as a mule.

I started to deleted it, then I read on.

"He stood there with his arms crossed stubborn as a mule. Well, a mule with arms."

And I decided I could leave that.

Kav said...

I am never going to write another word again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-0

Julie Lessman said...

OMIGOSH ... A scarlet "C" just popped up on my chest!!!

EXCELLENT POST, Myra-kins, as usual, and a guilty one because I do use cliches, I ashamed to say because as both you and Ruthy said, it's natural to do so in some conversations, so that's where I try to keep them -- in dialogue.

But, as you so expertly stated, giving "the cliché an interesting twist," is something I actually really enjoy doing. For instance, in A Passion Redeemed, I wanted to use the phrase, "that's the pot calling the kettle black," but because it was the Irish grandmother saying it, I changed it to "that's the lush calling the sot tipsy," substituting the words, but keeping the rhythm of the cliche.

Excellent post, Myra, and SUPER CONGRATS to PJ and CARA for finishing NaNo!!!

Gotta shake a leg and make hay while sun shines!!

Hugs,
Julie

Marianne said...

i've been reading some novels that used the more interesting version of the cliche, and at first it felt pretensous, or put on but now i understand, and can appreciate the work going into revitalizing them.

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, Seekerville! I've had my oatmeal and green tea, and I'm finally ready to roll. In a manner of speaking.

Oops, I think I just used a couple more clichés!!!

Helen, as always, thanks for putting on the coffee--and coffee is NEVER a cliché. Especially first thing in the morning!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, Mary Cline and Debra! I like your way of thinking, Debra. Reminds me of something attributed to Martin Luther: If you're going to sin, SIN BOLDLY.

Ruthy,, I love listening for Ziva's zingers on NCIS! I agree, a character with a penchant for clichés can be really fun.

Myra Johnson said...

Annie, I think you hit on something. As romance writers we can get sucked into the standard (or clichéd) way of describing an emotional response. Good idea to think a little harder and come up with something fresh!

CaraG, congratulations on finishing NaNo! November has never been a good month for me to tackle that challenge, so I both envy and admire all of you who stepped up to the plate (cliché!).

Myra Johnson said...

PJ! Another NaNo success story! Way to go! You're right, though--clichés are handy in a pinch when you just need to get words on the page. That's what the revision stage is for.

Rose, I agree. Old habits are hard to break. See, there's another cliché right there. We just can't get away from them!

Myra Johnson said...

LOL, Janet! Another important point--historical writers really need to double-check when common phrases came into use. I've come across a few in historical novels that drew me up short because they seemed so out of place AND out of character!

Jeanne, it's too early to send me to the dictionary!!! Paraprosdokians??? Okay, here's what Wikipedia says about them.

Myra Johnson said...

Good one, Misty! How can you turn that one around? Cute as a baby in an expensive English pram?

KarenK, always nice to see you here!

Mary, you just gave a perfect example of twisting a cliché so that it's both more interesting and more fun. "A mule with arms." Clever!

Myra Johnson said...

Kav!!!! Now stop talking like that right now!!! There isn't a writer among us who hasn't clichéd her little fingers off! The trick is to know how much is too much so you can nip those buggers in the bud!

Julie, great example! Clichés do usually have a catchy rhythm, which is probably why they pop into our minds so easily. Have fun making hay!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Marianne, interesting that some of the cliché twists you came upon sounded pretentious. I wonder if the author was trying TOO hard.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Heehee, Myra! I do end up putting in cliches in my first draft, but try to edit them out later. I can catch them pretty easily, because I write historicals and any cliches usually stick out like a sore thumb. (ha-ha, couldn't resist)

Anonymous said...

I can see where the overuse of cliches can show signs of laziness, something we need to watch for, especially if there's a better way to say it. But other times when an author gets cutesy w/a cliche, it takes me out of the story.

Black sheep of the family
Like a dog chasin' his tail
her world turned upside down
just a hop, skip, and a jump
rootin' in the tater patch (not really a cliche... my daddy used to say this though and I'm not sure what it even means. :)

Something to think about it.

Connie Queen

Melanie Dickerson said...

Oh, and I want to share my new favorite tea with you all, Lipton green tea with passionfruit and coconut.
PASSIONfruit, Julie! You'll love it! :-)

Bridgett Henson said...

I love Ziva's mixed up clichés. And eccentric elderly people are a hoot.

I try not to overuse clichés, but they come so natural in southern fiction dialogue.

Yet, I try to mix it up.
One example: Good things come to those who wait.
Change to: Good things come to those who hold out the longest.

Bridgett Henson said...

Not sure about the eggnog coffee, but the passionfruit tea sounds interesting.

Myra Johnson said...

Cute, Melanie! As Janet said earlier, we do have to be especially careful about any clichés we use in historicals. To work at all, they really have to fit the era and the setting.

Connie Q, more great cliché examples! And you're right--if we get TOO creative with cliché twists, we do run the risk of diverting our readers' attention from the story. In all cases, the authors main job is to reveal the story and characters while personally remaining invisible.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, Bridgett! I like your twist--"Good things come to those who hold out the longest." There's a subtle difference between waiting and holding out, so in the right context this would be perfect.

As for eggnog coffee, the other day I had an eggnog latte at Starbucks--YUM!!!!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

OUCH!!! These are totally cringe worthy!!

Mary Connealy said...

In my current Christmas ebook release, The Christmas Candle, I was trying to give my heroine an Irish voice, and yet not overdo it.
So she calls her brand new step sons 'Laddies.' and occasionally says, "Sure and it's a fine thing you're doing." And I figured out it sounded Irish if she called someone a twit.

So, I was always looking for a way to "Irish her up". So I spent some time googling Irish cliches or Irish slang. I wanted a cliche from Ireland. And I found this little saying that I felt fit.

She says, "You laddies will be as happy as a mouse in a malt heap."

Well, honestly, I guess I can sort of figure what that means, though malt heap is strange. But the point of that was to have her toss off a cliche, a phrase that was clearly used by her as a cliche and yet have it sound foreign to the reader, who ascribes it to Irishness.

So maybe if you need to give an unusual voice to your characters think of hunting down cliches that fit them. Like having a southern woman say, "Bless her heart, she doesn't have a brain in her head."

So you CAN use cliches--if you use them wisely.

Mary Connealy said...

I also remember reading (I'm not sure who) and instead of saying, "Well, if that isn't the pot calling the kettle black."

She says, "Pot, may I introduce you to kettle?"

So that turns the cliche on it's head in a fun way.

Myra Johnson said...

Tina, yep, clichés have a way of making you cringe--LOL!

Mary, good point. Clichés can be very helpful for characterization. I bet you had fun tracking down those Irish sayings!

pol said...

I have never thought about how many clitches there are or that it might be a bad thing, they're comfortable lets dont get rid of them....
too many things are changing and I like to keep something as it was.
loving all these comments though you crack me up sometimes....

Paula O(kyflo130@yahoo.com)

Sandra Leesmith said...

Great list Myra. I"m sooooooo guilty of using cliche's.

But try translating a cliche into a foreign language. That gets hysterical. DH and I were in Colombia and he said "un caballo de color diferente" That's a horse of a different color. Well it took us an hour to explain to our Colombian friends what we were trying to say. Because they had no cliche with those words and were wondering why different colored horses suddenly came up in the conversation. LOL

Sandra Leesmith said...

btw Myra where did you get those graphics?????

Laughing some more.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Guess I'm happy. My new book is out today.

Hoooooooraaaaaaay!!!!

Happy dancing here in Palm Springs.

Fr. David Bryant said...

Wow, Myra! Did you stay up all night dreaming up those cliches? Trouble with me is I don't even realize they are cliches unless my wonderful cp's point them out! LOL.

Happy release day, Sandra! Wishing you many lovely sales and great reviews!

Oh, don't enter me for the draw since I think I have this book. Must drag it out and actually USE IT!

Cheers,
Sue (trying to keep sane - and not quite succeeding - in all the Christmas rush)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Grrr - forgot to change accounts.

See - insanity has set in!

Susan Anne Mason said...

My secret alter ego is Fr. David! LOL.

Ssh, don't tell him!

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

All morning, ever since I read your blog, I have been unable to think of anything except clichés. You have put a bee in my bonnet and I don’t even write Amish romances.

I must clear the buffer so I can get back to the grindstone. As such I must hang out the wash.

A cliché is a way to understanding without grandstanding. It is much to be shunned by an exhibitionist.

A cliché is like a beautiful woman who always wears the exact same clothes.

Clichés were once welcome guests who have since worn out their welcome.

Clichés are like a sharp knife that gets duller with each use.

Clichés are the fertilizer that revitalizes the very common ground from which they sprouted.

Clichés are devalued by their very success.

Clichés start out in an attempt to overcome the curse of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, but always fail to the degree they are successful.

Clichés begin life as sparkling turns of phrase and end life as Swiss Army knives.

Behind every successful cliché is a hard working vision -- the real handmaiden of understanding.

Clichés trade original rhetoric for certain understanding.

Clichés are the enemy of those who wish to be misunderstood.

The obtuse dislike clichés because cliches are so easy to understand.

The most worn out clichés provide the clearest path to understanding.

A great cliché always remains the same even as the words used to express it are updated.

Cliché words offend the ears while cliché actions offend the soul. (Someone please have the heroine bite the finger of the next hero who tries to place a strand of her hair back behind her ear!)


Vince

Vince said...

Hi Ruth:

They have a word for anything that is put into coffee: contaminant.

About your old people, like me:

She is a walking cliché
the only mystery about her
is how she got that way.


She talks like a Golden Oldies radio station.

Vince

Myra Johnson said...

Don't worry, Paula, I don't think you have to worry about clichés going away anytime soon! ;-)

Sandra, it's true--clichés and idioms are so hard to translate into another language! They just don't make sense! In my current wip, one of the characters is French, so I've been trying to dig up common expressions she might use. Believe me, Google Translator isn't much help in that department!

Donna said...

How about:
Last but not least - equally as important

Or is that just replacing a cliché with another one?
That's what I kept catching myself doing as I went down the list.

It's harder than it looks, lol.

Vince said...

Julie:

You wrote:

For instance, in A Passion Redeemed, I wanted to use the phrase, "that's the pot calling the kettle black," but because it was the Irish grandmother saying it, I changed it to "that's the lush calling the sot tipsy," substituting the words, but keeping the rhythm of the cliche.

Don’t you realize that by doing this you have traded a cliché for the drunken Irish stereotype? That is the most unkindest cut of all. I can never forget this line. : )

Vince

P.S. How about, "that’s like the Bishop calling the Pope a Papist."

P.P.S. Beware of butterflies barnstorming before there are aero planes. : ))

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, the graphics? I export them from my PrintShop program. Glad they have you laughing, Sandra! But I think having a new book out is even more reason to celebrate! Congratulations!!!

KC Frantzen and May the K9 Spy said...

If I tell ya, I'll have to kill ya....
Top secret! ;D

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, Sue! I wondered who that strange commenter was--LOL! Nope, didn't stay up all night thinking up clichés. I took these straight from Fiske's The Dimwit's Dictionary. And this is only the teensiest sampling!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Vince, Vince, Vince!!!! I'm glad you got all that out of your system! My fav? Clichés begin life as sparkling turns of phrase and end life as Swiss Army knives.

And now I must check my wip immediately for hair getting tucked behind ears.

KC Frantzen and May the K9 Spy said...

YAY Sandra!
New book out - WAHOOO!
May just did a backflip!

Are you reaaallly in Palm Springs? We were in Palm Desert over Thanksgiving! Family there... Maybe we can connect next round, though - it's hard when holidays.

Congratulations!!!

Myra, this is entirely too fun. :)

Myra Johnson said...

Donna,, it's true--a LOT harder than it looks to come up with new twists to old clichés. "Equally as important" is a rather common expression, but it could work as a substitute for "last but not least." That one is definitely a challente.

All right, KC, what's your secret, girlfriend????

Myra Johnson said...

A challente???? Good grief. Sounds like a dance from south of the border!

I meant to type CHALLENGE!

Jan Drexler said...

Myra, when I saw the title of your post, I knew you were exaggerating. No one could come up with 101 cliches and put them in one post.

I'm glad I was wrong. Those were so much fun to read through!

Yes, I'm guilty of using cliches, but (hopefully) only in the right places. They tend to show up in dialogue.

I do like new sounding cliches, though. That's what makes those new Geico commercials work - "as happy as a witch in a broom factory", "as happy as a body builder directing traffic", "as happy as Gallagher at a farmer's market". They're funny because they sound like they should be cliches.

Clari Dees said...

Maybe I shouldn't admit this... but I love cliches. I especially love it when Mary Connealy turns them on their ear! :-)
And having roots in the Arkansas hill country, cliches continually pop up in family conversations.

Like a calf lookin' at a new gate.
Poor as Job's turkey.
Like water off a duck's back.
Jumpin' on them like a chicken on a June bug.

(Can you tell my people were farmers? :-)

However, I try to keep myself from over-using them when I write. Then again, they're such a part of my life... Hmm... must go check my WIP

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, Jan! So you were surprised I actually had a list of 101 clichés (and then some)? Dialogue is actually a "safe" place to use clichés, because they're great for characterization.

Clari, there are so many interesting regional expressions! Someone needs to do a post on Southernisms (Debby & Missy?), New York-isms (Ruthy?), etc.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, and I LOVE the witch in the broom factory commercial--SO funny!

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

HAHAHAHA!

These are so funny!!

I avoid cliches in this house because (if we're speaking English) my husband has no idea what I'm saying.

Every language has its own parcel of weird sayings. Some of them are hilarious!



Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Ooooh, Janet, now that's a handy dictionary!!

The one (ONE!) historical I've written was so tough because half the time I wasn't sure if the wording was too modern. I tried to err on the side of caution, but there was no way to tell.

Myra Johnson said...

So true, Virginia! I bet it gets very interesting in a bilingual family!

Jeanne T said...

Congratulations, Sandra!!!! So happy you're newest book is out today!!!!

Cara Lynn James said...

Great post, Myra!

My least favorite cliche is 'at the end of the day.' It's used on news programs all the time.

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Hi Myra! When I was a journalist, we always groaned when people used the "like a war zone" cliche.

"The devastation from the tornado looked like a war zone..."

"The hurricane damage looked like a war zone..."

"The mess in the kitchen resembled a war zone..."

If you notice, war veterans never use that cliche. Because nothing comes close to a real war zone. Except, maybe another war zone.

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Myra, the one we went through the other day:

husband makes 'horn signs' on his head with his hands to describe a guy and the guy's wife.

I said, "Oh, they fight a lot"?

No, his wife was cheating on him.

See, everyone else could see the horns but the man who was wearing them.

Not even close to what I was thinking...

Myra Johnson said...

Cara, that's a good one. Kind of like "when all is said and done."

Stephanie, I hadn't thought of that! I'm guilty of using that expression myself to describe a messy house--especially after our grandsons have been here for a week!

Myra Johnson said...

Virginia, that's wild! I'd never have thought cheating either! Fighting a lot makes so much more sense, I guess because we tend to think of "locking horns."

Mary Connealy said...

You know which one I get so tired of?

At the end of the day......

I hear this all the time...particularly but not exclusively...on TV News shows to sum up what's already been said.

It gets on my LAST NERVE. (which is also a cliche) And you'd think professional talkers would rebel against such a cliche, too. But nooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Mary Connealy said...

CLARI DEES thanks.

Cliches from my very funny daughter

She's always saying, "I'm on it like a hobo on a ham sandwich."

Or, "I'm on it like a fat kid on a cupcake."

Myra Johnson said...

Those are good ones, Mary! Both are new to me!

Mary Connealy said...

And my personal favorite insult that is almost but not quite a cliche was when Tom Linscott says to his probably-wife (there's some confusion on whether they got their I Do's said or not) "You're crazier than a rabid swamp rat."

Crazy as a loon can't work in a region where there are no loons.

Myra Johnson said...

So there are swamp rats in Montana??

Alan Schleimer said...

Great post, Myra. Here's my bottom line on cliché #101, “You get what you pay for.” It's one of the few clichés that sounds right as rain, but isn't up to snuff. On the other hand, I reverse it and say, "You don't get, what you don't pay for." What I really cotton to about the reverse is that since it isn’t a cliché, I can use it in my writing.

Myra Johnson said...

Alan, you clever guy, you! ;-) Adding the negative is definitely one way to turn a cliché around.

Mary Connealy said...

I'm paying attention to cliches while I write and found this 'watched him like a hawk' reference I played with yesterday, trying to decide whether to keep it.

Here's what I've got.

Glynna watched the upper slopes of the narrow canyon like a hawk. No, she paid better attention that that. She watched them like a woman who’d barely survived an avalanche a few weeks back.

Mary Connealy said...

Well, I'm not sure, but Tom is originally from back east somewhere...Chicago maybe...it's been a while and I can't remember. So swamp rats or not, I think I can use them.
Plus the book's been out for about two years so it's a waste of time to think about changing it now! :)

Myra Johnson said...

You are so good, Mary. And anyway, "swamp rat" just sounds like something a cowboy would say.

Jamie Adams said...

I avoid cliches not because of the over usage but because I mix them up. I get it from my father. One night after dinner he walked our dinner guest to the door and said 'come back some time when you can't stay so long' that's not what he meant and I believe this inability to remember figures of speech is hereditary.

Vince said...

A Horse by a Different Color

"Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres."*

I got re-clichéd during PT this afternoon. One more time.

Clichés can come in three categories

1. Literal cliché
“That’s old wine in new bottles.”
This type of cliché should be translatable into any language that has wine and bottles.

2. Literal but expanded in application cliché
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”
“I need to get my sea legs.”
These were literal in their original domains but have since been expanded into the general population.

3. Idiomatic cliché
You’re pulling my leg. (You’re kidding.)
Break a leg. (Good luck.)

Idiomatic clichés are not directly translatable into another language and translators who can do it on the fly are much in demand at the UN.

Favorite Cliché (with a caveat.)

“God helps those who help themselves.”

Caveat: At what point do we want to label -- as a cliché -- highly regarded words of wisdom?

Most Disliked Cliché

“The bottom line is:” I’d much rather hear, “At the end of the day,” because it, at least, is not presumptuous.”

Vince

P.S. What about current slang? I think a 'swamp rat' is like a 'dirt bag', that is, current slang. I find current slang to be jarring when used in historical novels. In one historical I’m reading a person calls something an 'oxymoron'. Up until the comedians turned ‘oxymoron’ into a joke generator (like knock-knock), this word was mostly used by scholars to talk about the works of Shakespeare. (It was used in explaining irony and satire.) TMI, I know.

*This is probably the one sentence in Latin that most former Latin students will be able to translate for the rest of their lives but I would still not want to call it a cliché. (All Gaul is divided into three parts.)

Sherida Stewart said...

This post is great.....and points our how much I use cliches... in writing and conversation. You are all so creative...I am intimidated! But onward and upward! :) Aside to Janet Dean: What is the title of the dictionary you have telling the dates of expressions? I have wondered about wording I use in my historical writing. Thanks! And congratulations to the NaNo finishers....I continue to be a participant...maybe NRXT year!

Myra Johnson said...

Jamie, that is hilarious! It really needs to go in a book sometime! A perfect line for an unwelcome guest if ever I heard one!

Sherida Stewart said...

"nExt year"....wish I could edit a post...

Myra Johnson said...

Vince, as usual, you are thinking too much--LOL! The inner workings of your erudite brain must be almost as scary as Mary's!

And I totally agree about the horrors of finding modern-day slang in historical novels. "Jarring" is putting it mildly. Even a simple word like "okay" can jump out at me when it seems wrong for the era or the setting.

Myra Johnson said...

I know what you mean, Sherida. Why do we always notice our comment typos AFTER we've hit "publish"?

And, hey, no need to feel intimidated by this group! We're all in this crazy business together, and the name of the game is helping and learning from each other.

Sherida Stewart said...

Thanks, Myra! I just found Seekerville a couple of months ago...and love all the sharing and encouragement. Thank you to all those a part of Seekerville!

Myra Johnson said...

Glad to have you! BTW, I love your name, Sherida! So pretty!

Janet Dean said...

Sorry I've been away most of the day. The dictionary that dates idioms is entitled American Heritage dic.tion.ary of IDIOMS by Christine Ammer from Houghton Mifflin.

Janet

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks, Janet! That's definitely a resource I need to add to my arsenal.

Sherida Stewart said...

Janet, thank you for the information...just what I need.

Myra, my name comes from a romance novel, Sign of the Ram. My parents saw the movie right before I was born, then bought the book to see how to spell Sherida. Thanks again!

CatMom said...

Great post, Myra--thanks! I guess I'd never really thought that much about cliches, but then again sometimes I'm "flaky as a pie crust" *wink*. Blessings, Patti Jo

Jackie said...

Your post is just in time for me. I received a crit back today and they caught a cliche. And here I thought I'd worked so hard to avoid them.

Thanks for sharing, and please enter me in the contest.

Jackie L.

Have you heard flatter than a flitter? Seriously, I'm gonna have to use that in some story, it's too funny.

Audra Harders said...

What a great post, Myra! So many cliches! Who woulda guessed?

Janet, I need to get my hands on that dictionary that dates cliches and phrases!!

Nancy C said...

Myra, I'm trying to think of a way to tell you how much I enjoyed this post without using a cliche. I'll get back to you on that ...

Nancy C

Anonymous said...

Sandra -- congrats on the new release!

Nancy C

Natasha Kern said...

Myra, a fabulous idea for a blog post. Virginia brings up and Vince confirms the significant point that idiomatic expressions are almost always untranslatable because the meaning is not obvious or inherent in the words. It is astonishing how much our language is sprinkled with them and when you begin speaking a foreign language that becomes obvious. Cliches are simply expressions that are so overused they become invisible. Personally I love malapropisms and the hilarious chracters who use them.

Mary Preston said...

..and the cliches just keep coming. Loved this.

marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Lorie Langdon said...

I love this! It's funny how so many of these pop into our heads automatically. The trick is training ourselves to recognize them before they hit the page. :D

Myra Johnson said...

Patti Jo, your "pie crust" sweetness always brightens Seekerville!

Jackie, "flatter than a flitter"? Nope, that's a new one for me. And your crit group only found ONE cliché? Pat yourself on the back!

Hi, Audra! Yeah, amazing, isn't it? Clichés abound!

Myra Johnson said...

Nancy C, I won't wait up until you get back to me. :-)

Natasha, thanks for popping in! Oh, I do love malapropisms, too! It's both fun and a challenge to find a way to incorporate them into a particular character's personality.

Myra Johnson said...

Mary P and Lorie, thanks for stopping by. There just aren't enough hours in the day to list all the clichés! ;-D

C.E. Hart said...

Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit! I never dreamed there were a blue million clichés.

I really want the Dimwit's Dictionary, so I'll be sitting here gnawing my nubs (chewing my fingers to the bone) until the winner's announcement.

Love cliché #102. I doubt that one will ever be overused. ;)

nicnac63 AT hotmail DOT com

PatriciaW said...

Myra, how on earth (like that?) did you come up with so many?

Right as rain comes to mind.

Then there are the ethnic cliches which also need to be rooted out. They not only can be stale, they can cause offense. Won't post any here to avoid the latter. But we know them when we hear/read them.

Sunnymay said...

I belong to 2 poetry workshops and they advise no cliches unless you want to invite criticism or are trying to make a point that you can't make with any other words. It's probably more interesting to take cliches and write your own version.

Myra Johnson said...

C.E., there's no end to the number of clichés! Thanks for sharing a few of your own! ;-)

Patricia, you make a good point. Stereotypical ethnic clichés need to be erased from our mindset.

Sunnymay, thanks for visiting! I can see how it could be easy to fall into the cliché trap writing poetry. Sometimes, though, nothing is as clear and meaningful as a well-chosen cliché. Guess we're stuck with them!

KC Frantzen and May the K9 Spy said...

Hey Myra,
Late getting back to you...

Regarding my post - that was only the translation - "If I tell ya, I'd have to kill ya." translates to "Top Secret."

Though... May seems to be frequently up to something top secret! :)

Super fun to read through. GREAT Post! Thank you!

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Myra!! I loved this post. Sadly, I think my whole life is a cliche. I use so many on your list in my normal, everyday speaking that you'd be appalled! LOL

I'm sure the comments will leave me cracking up as well. :)

Missy Tippens said...

By the way, thanks for the advice to change the cliches up to fit the character or setting!

Janet Kerr said...

Oh those cliches! They do sneak in all the time! I need this book!
Jan