Cliché? Cliché!

Cliché Personified

Cliché Personified

“It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches” by Orin Hargraves. The book, author hopes, turned up hundreds of interesting facts about what people do with clichés. And it did.

It's been saidAuthor acknowledges that such an effort would’ve been much less productive if not for Sketch Engine, the software package developed by Adam Kilgarriff for querying corpora. Corpora is plural of corpus. And a corpus is a collection of natural language in machine-readable form, assembled for the purpose of linguistic research.Clichés6

Lexicographers and other language researchers have it much easier than ever before to study languages.Clichés7

In looking at language for the purpose of studying clichés, corpora have given me an excellent tool for determining how often, and in what contexts, a particular phrase or form of words is used. This makes it very easy to put to the test the question of whether a given way of expressing something may be, in fact, “overused.” While there can be no level of frequency that officially constitutes overuse of a word or phrase, statistics are very revealing about how often words are used in particular groupings.Clichés2

Working with a corpus it is possible, with a few keystrokes, to call up a dozen or a hundred or a thousand instances of a word or a phrase in the context of actual speech or writing. Other items in the lexicographic toolbox provide statistics on the frequency of words and phrases in relation to other words, or as a percentage of English generally.Clichés91

From these statistics emerge portraits of the life of words, their mating habits, their abuses, their triumphs and failings, in a much clearer and more comprehensive light than can be gleaned from casual reading or listening; it is a portrait that is far more dependable than the one that results from merely consulting your intuition about how often a form of words is used or whether people use it consistently, aptly, or inappropriately.<a
Images courtesy of href=””&gt;Clichés5

Should writer or speaker avoid using clichés all the time? The author’s answer is no. Readers and listening audiences need certain degree of familiarity, recognition and patterns. Not every expression should necessarily be 100% fresh and new, just like a meal cannot and souldn’t consist entirely of new and unfamiliar ingredients. Clichés9

Clichés, like the poor, will always be among us; but like the poor, their constant presence is not a justification for ignoring them, and their constant presence should not lead to the conclusion that they are intractable.Clichés4

Today, readers and listeners are probably subject to more clichés than ever before: we have the opportunity, if we wish to seize it, of listening to an unending stream of unedited chatter on television, radio, and online, much of which consists almost entirely of clichés, variously divided and reassembled.Clichés3


It’s a good book, all right. Author’s advise?

The best way to free your speech and writing of unneeded and detrimental clichés is to construct it thoughtfully, paying close attention to the common tendency to insert a ready form of words in a place where it easily fits.Clichés8

Nothing new under the stars… Is it a cliché?Clichés92Images in this post — courtesy of


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