Still using cliches? Why they’re as dead as doornails

Cliches make for easy, but lazy writing.

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For several lifetimes, it was said of anything and almost everything that it was “the greatest invention since the wheel.” Finally some anonymous hero, tiring of the wheel, called an innovation “the greatest invention since sliced bread.” Exit wheel, enter sliced bread and that’s where the needle has stuck.

“That’s how the ball bounces” has been followed by “That’s how the cookie crumbles” and “That’s how the mop flops.” Theme and two variations: bouncing ball, crumbling cookie, flopping mop. A faint fanfare.

While you are drinking a cup of coffee you can come up with alternatives, vivid and congenial to the tongue, to all those cliches. Then why don’t we do so in our writing and editing? Well, that’s the insidious thing about cliches.

They’re habit forming. They’re sticky. We can disengage ourselves from them, but it requires effort. Which is another way of saying: We’re too lazy.

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