Sunday, September 12, 2010

Avoid Clichés Like the Plague!

 "Let's face it, with all due respect, Clichés suck ..."

As a writer in pursuit of something fresh and exciting I am often dismayed by the use of worn out aphorisms and phrases.   One of the most odious of the last decade has been the phrase ‘At the end of the day’ which is repeated by every radio talk show caller and host ad nauseam (another cliché!) 
Doing a little research (and I stress ‘little’) I noticed that there are hundreds of them, possibly thousands, clogging up the English language like locusts.  How do you avoid clichés when everyone in the vicinity uses them on a daily basis?  As a writer the temptation to use them is big because a lot of them convey simple ideas that people can understand.   But really, most of these should be avoided in any kind of serious prose writing.   Here then is a list of the most annoying ones.  I only added the first few hundred because I was going ballistic looking at them all. 
CLICHES TO AVOID AT ALL COSTS || Compiled by David Hunter
all walks of life
at all times
leave no stone unturned
lock, stock, and barrel
calm before the storm
long arm of the law
never a dull moment
cry over spilled milk
patience of Job
paying the piper
give the devil his due
selling like hot cakes
hook, line, and sinker
stick out like a sore thumb
winds of change
in the same boat
Awful, aren’t they? Here are some more. These ones are usually used to start off a sentence and are particularly irksome … 

 To tell the honest truth
As a matter of fact

Let's face it

The reason being

 You know

I personally

With all due respect

At the end of the day

Some of them are unavoidable, right? I mean, there are only so many ways to start off a sentence.  But in prose writing I think it’s still possible to be fresh and original.  Here’s some more: 

It's not rocket science.
It's a paradigm shift.

win-win situation
bottom line
thinking outside the box
wealth of experience
low hanging fruit
in a nutshell
put all the eggs in one basket
giving 100%
strike while the iron is hot
no brainer
turn-key solution
beat a dead horse
everything from soup to nuts
leaps and bounds

Ugh.  I’m feeling my stomach turn.  But I suppose we have to go on …

value added
be at peace with yourself (shut-up)

Flies in the face

get his dander up
at the tip of my tongue
fine as frog hair
to make a long story short
A penny saved is a penny earned
walk like a cowboy
honest Injun
line up like tin soldiers
make it plain and clear
Above and beyond the call of duty
dog tired
The more things change, the more they stay the same
take a walk on the wild side
Better late than never!
batten down the hatches
can't be counted on in the clutch
age gracefully

I must confess to using some of these, but mostly in jest.  If I were to use these phrases in my daily life I’d have no friends left …

Cover your ass
you reap what you sow
road hog
once in a blue moon
times are changing
gum up the works
Angel of Death
like a bat out of hell
Happier than a pig in shit.
get a move on
an eye for an eye
good, bad or indifferent
there's no free lunch
between you and me and bedpost
thick as thieves
I would if I could.
vested interest
wolf in sheep's clothing
You have no Idea how painful this is for me!  But, I’ll be a good writer and soldier on …

Don't eat the yellow snow
far be it from me
lo and behold
on the Fritz
rip me off
eat your heart out
I don't know how to break this to you but....
by leaps and bounds
Women, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em
running around like a chicken with it's head cut off
I'll knock you from here to next Wednesday
As wise as an owl
a feather in his cap
Every day of the week and twice on Sundays
I’d like to insert something witty and urbane here, but I’ve lost my appetite …

talk 'till your blue in the face
in his element
all work and no play
last resort
the rocky road to success
your mission in life
had eyes that light up a room
bury the hatchet
a fish out of water
busy as a one legged man at an ass kicking contest
bottoms up
came the dawn
see it through
blind leading the blind
a marriage made in heaven
you're not just whistling Dixie!
year in and year out
the eternal triangle
sucking hind teat
dictates of conscience
It ain't broke.  Don't fix it.
Lets "Chew the fat." being nibbled to death by ducks
Like a bull in a china shop
all's well that ends well
in the lap of luxury

So you see, clichés are everywhere! We can’t avoid them completely in everyday conversations, but we can certainly avoid them in our writing.  Clichés are only weak, lazy language.  We can do better.  And please, if you catch me using a horrid cliché, just bust me in the chops!
(As a postscript, I will leave you with a few more horrendous clichés …)
bust in the chops
from the mouths of babes
at the crack of dawn
beauty is only skin deep
charity begins at home
chicken hearted
give a damn
snug as a bug in a rug
every inch a king
slim picking
to hell and back
labor of love
cut to the quick
 not a ghost of a chance
lay on, Macduff
half-baked idea
rise and shine
it's the best/greatest thing since sliced bread
true blue
~ David Hunter, Over and Out


  1. Some novels are full of them. I agree, it's very difficult to avoid clichés at times; maybe with a few edits they'll rise up to the surface. But as for blogs, clichés are less noticeable or I don't notice them.

  2. Just because this annoys me, I think I'm going to write a novel just based on these cliches.

  3. Erp. Cliches are hard to avoid, especially when you think about how many there are...some of them are alright in dialogue, since they're fairly common, but I do try to avoid them.

  4. Ya know ... if you had stopped with the first two or three collections, I would have been home free ... but no, you had to keep going ... so now, well, I'm just a failure ;)

  5. Fine as frog hair?

    Thats a new one to me? =)

    Fun post and very true.

    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  6. I never heard of that one either. I don't think it's in common use anymore, which probably takes it off the endangered cliche list .... =)


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