I mentioned last week in my blog on ‘Writing Magazine’ the phrase “the best thing since sliced bread” and referred to the fact that I knew I shouldn’t use clichés in writing. That got me thinking, what is the difference between a cliché and a proverb? We use knowingly, or unknowingly, Shakespeare’s sayings every day, e.g. “Dead as a door nail” (Henry VI).
I looked up the words cliché and proverbs. Here’s what it said:
Cliché (noun) platitude, banality, commonplace, hackneyed phrase, a trite stereotyped expression.
Proverb (noun) a short popular commonplace saying, that expresses truth or useful thought.
I suppose if one used the definition ‘commonplace’ to some of Shakespeare’s sayings they would be considered clichés, but I would never, never use the other words in the cliché definitions as applicable to The Bard.
One can see online ‘Shakespeare’s clichés’. They have to be kidding! (Whoops, I think I’ve used a cliché). They were not considered clichés when Shakespeare wrote them. I prefer to use the word ‘proverbs’ when applying a definition to some of Shakespeare’s quotations, which usually carry some advice, e.g. “To thine own self be true” (Hamlet).
A more modern cliché came into the English language following the song written in 1911, by Joe Hill, “The Preacher and the Slave”. A parody of the Salvation Army hymn “In the Sweet By and By”. I quote the last line of one verse – “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.” The song/cliché came to mean that the chance of anything happening was remote or impossible.
When I went online, to find the origin of the cliché “It’s not rocket science”, I found a fascinating site headed ‘Laboratory News’ with interesting information about clichés and I copy/paste the link here. https://laboratorynews.wordpress.com/category/origin-of-phrases/ The writer gives a possible explanation of the phrase. It obviously came into the English language as a result of the space age so it is quite modern. The origins of some clichés we use cannot be identified. “Dressed up to the nines” and “The whole nine yards” have totally obscure origins.
I use clichés in everyday speech. Who doesn’t? And when characters speak in my books I allow them to use clichés, but I try to avoid them when I am using descriptions – IF I recognise them.
What do you feel about clichés? Do you think they should be used or not (other than in everyday conversation and conversations in books)?