How to Use a Cliché (And Why You Should)

How to Use a Cliché (And Why You Should) child page title

Bored with a cliché-ridden conversation? Want to turn the worst second-hand language into gems of cleverness? Well, you came to the right can of worms!

Cliché is a French onomatopoeia meaning “click”: the sound an old-fashioned typesetter makes as he taps melted lead against a cast, making a stereotype—a block of type that can be reused. People think largely in terms of stereotypes and clichés—prefab chunks of information and attitudes that combine to form perceptions and understanding.

The easiest method entails embracing the literal meaning of the expression and then taking it as far as possible. When President Obama nominated Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court, she responded with a political cliché: she said she was “humbled” by the appointment. Why being appointed to one of the most powerful posts in government is “humbling” escapes me, but apparently Washington is full of these suddenly humble souls.

Some snappy answers (to be delivered at the TV or radio in front of an appreciative family):
You: Oh, I don’t blame you. It pays less than most Washington lawyers make.
You: Jeez, you do look humbled. Your posture is terrible.
You: Yeah, I’d feel humbled too if my office dress code was Methodist Church Choir.

None of those words would be engraved on your tombstone (which really would be humbling); but you could acquire a reputation for your witty virtual retorts. The point here is to agree with the speaker disagreeably. Think about the most over-the-top way of agreeing.
Significant Other: Wake up, sleepy-head! The early bird catches the worm!
You: You bet. I’m going to catch that worm and murder the early-rising son of a night crawler.

While ironic reinforcement gives more immediate satisfaction, you can buck up a cliché without any irony at all, especially if you happen to agree with it.
Friend: There’s nothing new under the sun.
You: Not even the sun.
Friend: The most important thing in a marriage is a sense of humor.
You: A big, impressive [comedic pause] sense of humor.

Whoa, your entendre just doubled. Nonetheless, you did what every red-hot lover of language should do. You cherished the cliché, had a moment of intimacy, and then did your best to make something of it.


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