California Culture


A Case for Colorful Clichés

By C. MacDonald

"All dressed up and no where to go;" "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," "Catch my drift?" These are clichés, phrases someone thought up which became popular and used over and over again.

I've always loved these expressions. Yet, journalism teachers and editors at top newspapers and magazines have told me not to use them. I think they add a lot of color and are appreciated by most readers and I've often tried to slip them in, anyway.

For many people, clichés are a fun part of their vocabulary. Take my friend, Charley, for instance. To take away such expressions from his vocabulary could leave him a depressed, unspoken person.

A retired California rancher, Charley feasted on such popular phrases as "kicked like a mule," "squealed like a pig," "knee high to a grasshopper" and "lived high on the hog."

Especially as a youngster, I was awed at the expressions Charley would utter before my ears, often for the first time. Such neat words as "take it with a grain of salt" and "been as poor as a church mouse" led me to start writing down his wonderful words of advice.

In English and Journalism classes, teachers used some of the same expressions as examples of what to avoid when writing. They warned about "got wind of," "don't cross a bridge before you come to it," "killed the golden goose," "passed the buck," "found a silver lining in every cloud" and "painted the town red."

I recently came across an old letter from Charley. He hadn't lost his touch. The one-time cattle rancher started out by saying there was a recent freak storm which "rained cats and dogs.... I have been able to keep my wits about me even though I've had my belly full of challenges...."

In another part of the letter, Charley expressed disappointment about a City Councilman he had helped get elected. "I must have been blind as a bat to have helped him and I shall regret it until I meet my maker!" He ended the letter, "Still keeping busy as a bee. May all your trails be happy. Time will tell. Charley."

Clichés will always be part of my personality. I don't have any plans to become "politically correct" and stop using them-- "never have, never will."

NOTE: Cliche is a term used in modern culture for an action or idea that is expected or predictable, based on a prior event. Typically pejorative, "clichés" may or may not be true.  Some are stereotypes, but some are simply truisms and facts.  Clichés often are employed for comic effect, typically in fiction.

The word cliché is drawn from the French language. In printing, "cliché" came to mean a stereotype, electrotype or cast plate or block reproducing words or images that would be used repeatedly. It came to mean a ready-made, oft-repeated phrase.  

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