In Others’ Words: New Cliche


cliche quote goldwyn 2014

Yesterday was a busy day for me, as I launched my third novel, Somebody Like You. It was a mix of fun and hard work and by the time 11 o’clock rolled around — when I was working on this blog post — I wasn’t up for a serious quote. Earlier in the day, a writer-friend had brought up the topic of cliches and I wondered, “Are there any quotes on cliches?” A bit of insider information: That’s how I find quotes sometimes — I wonder if there’s a quote on a particure topic and then I google the topic and … voila! a quote! 

But I digress. (It is after 11 PM.)

I love the irony of Samual Goldwyn’s quote on cliches, and that’s the reason why I posted it. It was the end of a long day. (I know, I said that before.) A fun day. And the quote made me laugh.

And then I got to thinking about cliches. Did you know the Cliche Finder site will generate cliches for you? Yep. Just pick a word and it creates a list. I chose “dog” and came up with:

let sleeping dogs lie
let loose the dogs of war
in the doghouse
hair of the dog that bit you
go to the dogs
it’s a dog’s life
a dog in the manger
dog eat dog
dirty dog
looking like a lost dog in a meat house
if you lie down with dogs, you rise up with fleas
I wouldn’t send a dog out on a night like this
that dog won’t hunt

Where do these cliches come from? And how do you go about creating a “new” cliche?

In Your Words: Do you have a favorite cliche? Or a cliche that you avoid like the plague? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) If you were going to plug a word in the Cliche Finder site, what word would you choose? 

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11 Comments

  1. May 14, 2014, 6:42 am   /  Reply

    I don’t have a favorite cliche – I kind of dislike them, for the same reason I dislike profanity. They’re unimaginative.

    But my greatest literary loathing is saved for expressions like deets, peeps, and vacay. Use of these can cause me to stop reading an article or a blog post.

    And…last and quite certainly least, at least for now – “jaw-dropping”. It conjures up an expression of sublime idiocy..

    Makes me sick as a dog.

    • May 14, 2014, 5:24 pm   /  Reply

      Profanity is unimaginative.
      Love that, Andrew.

      You just make me smile … and think.

  2. May 14, 2014, 11:41 am   /  Reply

    I’e always been partial to that dog won’t hunt. I use cliches a lot in my first draft because they express what I’m trying to say so well. Then I in the next draft I work harder to find the right words that say what the cliche says. 🙂 I also take out jaw-dropping in the next draft.

    • May 14, 2014, 2:43 pm   /  Reply

      That’s a jaw-droppingly good strategy.

      I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I do the same with profanity. The first draft, with a military or ‘rough’ character, looks like a Tourette’s advert. I’ve been there; I do know how these chaps talk.

      Then I refine it down, to use better and more acceptable phrasing, while still keeping the immediacy and urgency that profanity-under-stress implies.

      There are those who’d say that profanity is necessary for verisimilitude, but I disagree. Eugene Sledge’s memoir “With The Old Breed” deals with two of the most savage battles of WW2 – Peleliu and Okinawa. The participants would not have been expected to speak gracefully, but Sledge tells the story with a bare minimum of ‘bad words’. His writing skill preserves the anger, desperation, and heartbreak.

      • May 14, 2014, 5:27 pm   /  Reply

        Funny story about “profanity” and fast drafts: When I am writing and don’t know what word or phrase I want, I just put in ***. One of my preferred readers was reading my first draft and told me later that she thought, “I don’t remember this much profanity in Beth’s first book.”
        I busted out laughing and explained all the *** were placeholders for me to fill in when I figured out what I wanted to say.

        • May 14, 2014, 9:21 pm   /  Reply

          One of my favorite substitutes for profanity comes from :”The Caine Mutiny”, in which to veteran sailors, witnessing something bizarre, exchange comments “…which, translated, mean ‘This is extremely unusual’.” (That’s as close as I can get to a direct quote…my copy of TCM has gone missing.)

          It’s so elegant! You know that their language could be used to remove paint, and yet Wouk manages to make it both clear and inoffensive.

          That was in the days when obscenity laws had teeth. Today writers can say whatever they want, and we are the poorer for it.

    • May 14, 2014, 5:25 pm   /  Reply

      You know, Pat, I don’t use “that dog won’t hunt” – but when I hear it, I like it. It’s a great cliche.
      (Is that possible?)

  3. May 14, 2014, 2:54 pm   /  Reply

    Pat hit the nail on the head. I do the exact same thing with cliches–drop ’em in first time around so I don’t get hung up then go back later and find better phrasing. Or sometimes I’ll have a character use a cliche and then make fun of him/herself for using it. LOL! Which is essentially me making fun of myself. Which I do a lot in my writing actually. 🙂

    • May 14, 2014, 5:28 pm   /  Reply

      I sometimes steal a phrase from a movie and use it in a novel. One of my characters in Somebody Like You says a favorite phrase of mine from the move “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”

      🙂

      • May 14, 2014, 5:29 pm   /  Reply

        The movie … the movie.

        Sigh.

        • May 14, 2014, 9:24 pm   /  Reply

          Be happy, Beth.

          I once referred to that move as “The Scarlet Pimple”.

          (Beats head slowly against wall.)

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