Clichés: Don’t deskill yourself as a writer

When I was at school we were told to avoid clichés ‘like the plague’ – a delicious slice of irony, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Later on I heard somebody describe them as ‘linguistic lego’, which I thought was quite apt – I couldn’t help but admire the alliteration too. That person was talking specifically about management speak. You know: “Hi, I just thought I’d buzz you to touch base and schedule a one-to-one for some blue-sky-thinking about optimising for a range of mission-critical scenarios.”

For those who don’t know, cliché is the French word for the old hot metal printing plates that contained commonly used phrases. Because the phrases were so common they were never melted down – just used over again.

Today I came across another howler. I read about a holiday let that was in the HEART of the New Forest, which got me thinking: you never hear of something that is in the armpit or anus of a particular place… It’s always in the heart.

So why shouldn’t you use them? No doubt, intellectual snobs frown on them because they threaten to make all writing sound the same, which I can understand. But it’s more than that.

Clichés also threaten to deskill us as writers, leaving the infinite possibilities of our flawless language… well, finite…

I know we all use them from time-to-time, and particularly when we speak. But please, I appeal to you, try not to use them in your writing. As a result, you will keep readers reading and inject your ideas with the impetus and gravitas they deserve.

For your amusement here are some of the clichés I particularly ‘love to hate’:

  • At the end of the day.
  • Take the bull by the horns.
  • Until the cows come home.
  • Fit as a fiddle.
  • Frightened to death.
  • Cat got your tongue?
  • Nerves of steel.
  • Tail between his legs.
  • Don’t get your knickers in a twist.
  • Old as the hills.
  • Strong as an ox.
  • Weak as a kitten.
  • All’s well that ends well.