Sunday, January 4, 2015

CLICHE:  an expression, aphorism, proverb, maxim, idiom, or phrase that is overused, trite, hackneyed, stale, commonplace, banal, unimaginative, worn-out, and tired. 

About the worst insult one can hurl at writers and speakers is to accuse them of being a purveyor of cliches, and, therefore, deficient in original thinking.  In truth, attacking cliches has become a cliche itself.

Well, I’m here to defend the cliché and those who use them and to convince you that the study of the cliché not only improves one’s critical thinking but teaches us to appreciate the history of human experiences, shared across cultures, language groups, and time.   

To begin, ask yourself:  

            “Why would a group of words be used, re-used, and overused?  

The answer:

            Because they describe undeniable truths about the human experience,
            and they do so effectively and efficiently. Cliches are shorthand forms
            to human behavior and history.

The cliché’s crime is its success, and its success lies in its ability to cut to the gut (a future cliché, I hope) of a matter in a language understood by all.  Oh, yes, I suppose a writer or speaker could invest countless hours in search of a new and different way to say “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” but why bother when chances are the result will be second-rate and not connect as powerfully as the original with the receiver?

And that’s because clichés reflect the best thinking of our forebears.  Their users should be thanked for perpetuating their usage; in fact, if I had my way, public schools would be mandated to teach a course on the “The Wisdom of the Cliché.”  If studied, understood, and examined through observation, we would all be better-armed against double-talk, scams, fluff, and all around bullshit.  The cliche, a rational commentary on life, lets you penetrate below superficial surface structures to the truths that lie below.    

To prove my point, take the three cliché tests below, all descriptions of real life events, and pick the cliché(s) that go to “the heart of the matter.”

1.     A parishioner attends the same church every Sunday for twenty years and listens to the minister deliver anti-American and anti-Semitic sermons.  Later in life, the parishioner insists that he never agreed with the minister’s views of the world.  

      a)   It’s not what you say.  It’s what you do.
b)     Birds of a feather flock together.
c)     You will be judged by the company you keep.
d)     Lay down with dogs, get up with fleas.

All four describe the truth of the parishioner’s  behavior.   

2.     An engaged woman is leaving her hospital room after undergoing abdominal surgery.  Her fiancé says to her:  ‘I’m glad that’s over.  I was sure worried about you.”  He starts out the door, turns to see if she is following, and says:  “Pick up your suitcase, Honey, and let’s go.  I sure do love you.”

a)     A friend in need is a friend in deed.
b)     Actions speak louder than words.
c)     What you see is what you get. 
d)  A stitch in time saves nine.

A, B and C are correct. (And my advice to the young woman is to “run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit!” ALONE!)

3.     We are told that Cuba is an economic and social success; that its people are healthy, happy, and productive.  Yet on a recent eight-day tour of Cuba, my fellow-travelers and I were chased through the streets of Havana by crowds of raggedy people, begging for food, soap, and toilet paper.  Scaffoldings -- erected 15 plus years earlier for the purpose of reconstructing deteriorating buildings – were now stories-high metal trellises, now long-time carriers of vines and debris. And driving hundreds of miles across the island, one sees only a trickle of cars and trucks (until the vintage cars of Havana).  Most transport is by horse-drawn wagons, and despite the obvious shortage of food in the country, acre after acre of fields are uncultivated.   

a)     One picture is worth a thousand words.
b)     Seeing is believing
c)     Don’t believe everything you read.
d)     Killing two birds with one stone.

      The answers:  a, b, and c.

At the root of these vignettes and all good stories (novels, plays, movies) are cliches. And that's because LIFE IS A CLICHE!  These age-old truths are not the products of lazy minds, but their automatic rejection is most definitely a sign of the closed mind.

                    To reject the cliche is to reject human history.


                                               Whiningly yours, Carol

Cliches deserve your respect.  They are not the product of a lazy mind, but their automatic rejection is most definitely the product of a closed mind. To reject the cliché is to reject human history! 

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