Thursday, April 24, 2008


There are three degrees of cliche, beginning with the mere cliche, which is a minor sort of cliche that nearly goes unnoticed, a sort of sweeping of some disorder under a carpet as a quick evasive action rather than actual cleaning.

Then there is the minimal cliche which is loud enough to be noticed, loud enough in fact to stop the conversation or halt the reading. The minimal cliche is often associated with one of those moments in tea rooms or small gatherings when there is a sudden gap in conversation and the room becomes quiet, all voices and ambient noise halted. At that moment, one person utters a word which is not of itself as remarkable as having the potential for being remarkable. A word such as circumcision or smegma. Once the word is uttered, the ambient noise and conversation resume at a louder intensity, as though to cover up the fact of the offending word having been uttered.

The there is the serious cliche, something ponderous, overriding mere shorthand that informs most cliche and as a dog sometimes savages a rag or bone, worrying the cliche into a kind of submission that turneth the stomach.

But perhaps the biggest most egregious flagrant cliche of all is the trope in which the writer deliberately disinters famous cliches of the past to use in an essay meant to be ironic in which the main course is a menu of cliches to be avoided. A cliche of such a nature transcends laziness and clunkiness, it becomes as Hillary in our midst, seeking recognition and revenge against originality. Australian and North American English have the advantage of men and women who get more out of the declarative sentence than Margaret Thatcher got out of her off-shore banking accounts.


R.L. Bourges said...

the ponderous part reminds me of a former client of mine who decided to wing it instead of sticking to his script. Addressing a large gathering he began with these immortal words: " My mother...who was a woman..."
A colleague came by and patted my shoulder. "Nice speech," he said. "One of your best intros."
What I could do for Hillary. If only she would ask.

f:lux said...

"...doth protest too much, methinks."

Hamlet (III, ii, 239) (;)

cbb said...

Could you give us an example of each degree, Hillary apart?

And is there any instance in which a cliché is permissible, if not even laudatory?

x said...

Uh-oh. I may have just written a post on the worst possible offense: cliches to be avoided. On the other hand, come to think of it, so did you!