Writing Tips

How to spot a cliché

You might be familiar with advice from writing style guides to avoid clichés.  This comes from one of Orwell’s six elementary rules for clear writing - in fact it was his number one (though he doesn’t actually use the word “cliché”):

Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

The bit about something you’re used to seeing is key.  The ‘Really Simple English Grammar Essentials’ defines a cliché as:

A phrase that has been overused to the point where it loses any wit or descriptive merit it may once have had.  Tabloid newspapers are a rich source of clichés and should be… avoided like the plague!

(Yes, that was a sneaky cliché.)

How do you spot a cliché in your own writing though?  Or check that your carefully crafted phrase isn’t actually flogging a dead horse?  Well here’s a nifty web-site called ‘Cliché Finder’ that allows you to check if you’re about to use a cliché.  Of course there are no absolutes here, and the list of phrases are those that are submitted by other writers and readers rather than style gurus, but it’s a handy way to do a quick check.

You can also use it to generate clichés - deliberately for effect, to construct a headline (or blog title maybe), to write in tabloid-ese (if you really have to!) or just to generate some words, ideas and possibilities if you’ve got stuck in your writing.

The site includes a random cliché generator which comes up with some gems like this:

forgive and forget
hit the road
the pot calling the kettle black
don’t eat the yellow snow
A good heart is hard to find
dead right
by and large
you’re not just whistling Dixie!
bust loose
let it fly

Depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on perhaps you’ll find some new acquaintances here as well as old friends and enemies…

Do you have any favourite clichés?  The ones you still like to use - or the ones you love to hate?

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2 Responses to “How to spot a cliché”

  1. On March 22, 2009 at 12:20 am Thomas Say responded with... #

    From the lack of comments in a year-old article, I’d say no. Nobody likes cliches. Period.

    ReplyReply
  2. On March 23, 2009 at 8:19 am Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Thomas, hi :-) As an old post there are lots of reasons it doesn’t have comments.. but I’m sure you’re right anyway!

    ReplyReply

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