What is a cliché?
A cliché arises when a phrase is used so often it loses its meaning. Even worse, some long-standing phrases gain the slightly tragic sounding title of ‘thought-terminating cliché’. Whilst a run of the mill (oh dear) cliché is a phrase that has become irritating, over-used and somewhat meaningless - a thought-terminating one is so ingrained in our culture and way of communicating it literally blocks any creative or intelligent thought as soon as it enters the mind of the audience.
Why should I care, I'm not a writer?
If you write in any capacity for work, maybe you are putting together a presentation or producing a report - you know this feeling. You know what you want to say (I could say ‘its on the tip of your tongue’ but I wouldn’t use such a banal phrase) but all brain power somehow grinds to a halt as this large, lumbering phrase that you know as well as the back of your hand (I’ll stop now) gets in the way.
They're not that terrible are they?
Why are clichés so bad? I mean, their origin is interesting and says a lot about the culture they come from. However, if the brain stopping effect is not enough to convince you to try and avoid them, then consider the drain on the message you are trying to convey. We all know clichés so well that they really don’t register when we read them - they vaguely pass somewhere between your audiences hairline and eyebrows, sprinkling a tiny dust of meaning as they go, which is quickly brushed away - and forgotten. If you are trying to convince anyone of anything - don’t use a cliché.
Think about core of what you want to say - the chances are if you use a cliché you will miss out some key information that would actually communicate your message much more effectively.
How can I avoid them?
Say you are giving a presentation to staff about your experience with a new product and you really, really don’t want them to buy it. You know the sales staff are going to call and they are hard to get rid of. You know it sounds like a great deal and its very tempting. You just want to tell them to avoid it like the plague. What a perfect way to explain how bad this product is right? Wrong - your audience won’t hear you.
Think about the key word in the phrase you are trying to communicate. Take it right out of the cliché, pick up a thesaurus and look it up. (If you don’t have a thesaurus you can use online versions). So in this example look up avoid. Find another word or phrase that works better. Say…. ‘keep away’ - then look up this phrase or word and find another one - maybe ‘resist’. By this point you are seeing lots of other options and the power of the original cliché is diminished.
‘The sales pitch is strong and I bought this product in good faith - it appeared excellent value and looked like it would solve my storage problem; however it caused a fatal error within my PC. Resist buying this if you value your hard drive!’