Exploring the Common Pitfalls of Cliches in Writing
Cliches are everywhere in speech and writing. They are so widespread that often, we don’t even realize when we are using them. While cliches may seem like an easy way out, using them can detract from the clarity, resonance, and originality of your communication. In this article, we will explore what cliches are and why they are problematic. We will delve into how they are used in different contexts, provide examples, and look at how they function in popular culture and the psychology behind why they are so common. Most importantly, we will share practical tips for avoiding cliches to develop a unique style in your writing.
Defining a Cliche
A cliche is a phrase or expression that has lost its originality and impact through overuse. Cliches often fall into three categories: metaphors, idioms, and catchphrases. A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two things, while an idiom is a group of words that, when used together, have a meaning that is different from the individual meanings of the words. A catchphrase is a word or phrase that is repeated by a group or a person in popular culture, often becoming synonymous with that group or person.
Cliches are often used in everyday speech and writing because they offer a convenient way to communicate an idea quickly. However, over time, because they are so overused, they begin to sound trite and lack the impact that they once had.
Examples of Cliches
Cliches are common in many areas of writing, including literature, journalism, and business writing. For example, in literature, phrases like the “big, bad wolf” or “as white as snow” can be classified as cliches. In journalism, “battle of the sexes” and “from the horse’s mouth” are often overused expressions. Similarly, in business writing, we often see phrases like “think outside the box” or “low-hanging fruit” that don’t add any real value to the message being conveyed.
In all instances, cliches detract from the originality and nuance of communication. They can also be confusing and frustrating for readers who may struggle to understand why the writer is using an expression that is so commonplace. For example, if a journalist reports that something was “an open secret,” it may not be clear what makes it a secret if everybody knows about it.
However, we can replace cliches with fresh phrasing that is more descriptive, accurate, and interesting. For example, instead of using “think outside the box,” we could try “approach the problem from a new perspective.” Or instead of “low-hanging fruit,” we might say “easy targets.”
Why Cliches are Problematic
There are several reasons cliches should be avoided when writing. Firstly, cliches lack originality and can be dull for readers to read. They can make a piece of writing feel formulaic and uninspired, creating fatigue and turning readers off. This problem is compounded in the world of social media, where short, pithy statements are preferred over long-form content, making cliches a quick and easy go-to.
Overreliance on cliches can also obscure the intended meaning of what you are trying to communicate and detract from your message’s clarity. This problem is particularly damaging in professional situations, where clarity and precision are essential. Suppose you are applying for a job in marketing, for example, and use cliches in your resume to describe your skills and experience. In that case, you run the risk of appearing cliche and generic and failing to distinguish yourself from other candidates.
Cliches can also ruin a reader’s experience. In creative writing or in journalism, adding just a little bit of clarity and uniqueness to your phrasing can do wonders in keeping the reader engaged. However, constant repetition through familiar phrases like “the thrill of victory” can come across as insincere, inauthentic, and formulaic.
Replacing Cliches with Fresh Language
Recognizing and avoiding cliches is a crucial part of developing a unique writing style. Avoiding them is crucial, and this can be done by considering the context of your writing. Instead of using a cliche, think about what it is you’re trying to accomplish with your writing, and consider how you can describe the situation with fresh phrasing.
For example, instead of using the cliche “avoid like the plague,” you could try “we should steer clear of this.” Instead of “actions speak louder than words,” you could try “put your words into action.” This approach will require planning and preparation, but in the end, you will be rewarded with cleaner, clearer, and more impactful writing.
It’s also useful to pay attention to what kind of cliches might be typical of your particular writing genre. If you are a romance novelist, you may find yourself falling back on phrases like “heart racing” or “butterflies in the stomach” frequently. The more you can understand the tendencies of your genre, the better-equipped you will be to work around them and create something fresh.
Cliches in Pop Culture
Cliches don’t just exist in writing; they are prevalent in popular culture too. In movies, television shows, and books, you can frequently spot cliches. For example, the tired old trope of a female character being reduced to her one-dimensional role as a love interest or “damsel in distress” in the action-adventure subgenre.
Cliches can be used to great effect, particularly in comedy, where the audience is in on the joke. However, overuse of even well-trodden cliches can come across as lazy or lacking in originality. Understanding the cliches that typify different genres, whether in literature, film, or TV, can help creators avoid falling into the trap of repeating cliched rote.
The Psychology of Cliches
By their very nature, cliches are instantly recognizable, and often this is precisely why they have such a profound impact on us. Humans are predisposed to use language that resonates with them on a personal level. Cliches play on the collective psyche, and this is perhaps why they are so prevalent.
Cliches are baked into our social and cultural norms, playing an essential role in socializing us from a very young age. When writers lean on cliches, they tap into this ingrained vocabulary and appeal to long-held beliefs and assumptions in the audience.
As consumers, people are naturally drawn to what is recognizable. Cliches play to this psychological trait, making their use an easy and emotionally resonant way to connect with an audience. However, overreliance on cliches can make it less likely that a reader or viewer will engage with or be drawn to your work due to familiarity.
Cliches are a common enemy of good writing, but with careful consideration, we can avoid their overuse. By understanding the difference between cliches and fresh language, readers can make their writing more engaging, and improve their audience’s understanding of their message. Avoiding cliches is all about creativity and developing a unique style. While the work required may seem challenging initially, taking the time to craft original and impactful language is a key advantage of any writer or speaker.