Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I was watching the News Hour last night and they had a special correspondent on from NPR. I am always interested in putting a face on the people I hear so often on the radio, and was especially interested in what she had to say, so was paying close attention. However, I quickly started to pay attention to something else.

Clichés. Her piece was filled with them.

Now, I probably wouldn’t have been so struck with them if I hadn’t attended all those writing classes. Don’t use clichés, we were told. Go through your manuscript and take them all out. They are the lazy person’s way to express themselves and an editor will immediately reject you if you use them. Besides, they mark you as uneducated, uninformed, not willing to go the extra mile to properly express yourself. So, for a long time I have had a horror of those innocent little expressions.

Only, are they really so awful? Didn’t they come into being because they were a good shortcut to express a very real sentiment?

I’ve known as many people with college degrees whose speech is littered with clichés as those who still are struggling to get their GED. Maybe more. And, when writing dialog, they can come in handy when you are drawing the profile of a character. And that character doesn’t have to come across as lazy, ignorant, or anything other than that’s the way they talk.

It’s the way we all talk. If we didn’t use them so often, they wouldn’t be clichés. Of course, if you are going to use them, it’s a good idea to use them appropriately. I knew someone who kept referring to a relative as “my shirttail relative.” That usually means someone who hangs onto your shirttail while you drag them along behind. It’s a faintly disparaging term. Only, in this case, the relative was pretty rich and handed out possessions and money to the rest of the family.

So, if we are going to use phrases that are termed clichés, it might be a good idea to at least know what they mean.

Kathleen Delaney


L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's a good point!

Michele Emrath said...

I roll my eyes every time my husband uses a cliche, and it's become a joke between us now. I have a journalism background so it's especially painful to read your post. Cliches are doubly discouraged in j-school. If a writer can't think of two or three different ways to say something, maybe someone else should write the story.
Interesting post, but I have to say I specifically stay away from NPR websites b/c I do not want to know what the personalities look like! I love that they exist in my mind and in my ear, very much like characters in a book.
Michele Emrath