A cliché conveys an idea or message but loses its point through over-usage.

Clichés are terms, phrases, or even ideas that, upon their inception, may have been striking and thought-provoking but became unoriginal through repetition and overuse. Popularity made them seem trite, turning them into what we now know as clichés.

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Origin of the Word Cliché

The word cliché has French origins, which is why you’ll often see it with an accent over the “e,” but you can also write it as “cliche” in English. When printing presses were used, the cast iron plate that reproduced the words, phrases, or images was called a stereotype. The noise that the casting plate made sounded like “cliché,” meaning click, to French printers, so this onomatopoeia word became printer’s jargon for the stereotype. Thus, cliché came to mean a word or phrase that gets repeated often.

Popular Clichés

Just because a phrase is overused doesn’t mean it’s a cliché, and because a phrase is a cliché doesn’t mean it isn’t true. A cliché conveys an idea or message but loses its point through over-usage. We’ll let you be the judge of these examples of clichés you’ll find in everyday use.

Common Cliché Sayings

  • All that glitters isn’t gold
  • Don’t get your knickers in a twist
  • All for one, and one for all
  • Kiss and make up
  • He has his tail between his legs
  • And they all lived happily ever after
  • Cat got your tongue?
  • Read between the lines
  • Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed
  • We’re not laughing at you we’re laughing with you

Clichés that Describe Time

  • Only time will tell
  • In the nick of time
  • Lost track of time
  • Lasted an eternity
  • Just a matter of time
  • A waste of time
  • Time flies
  • In a jiffy
  • The time of my life
  • At the speed of light

Clichés that Describe People

  • As old as the hills
  • Fit as a fiddle
  • Without a care in the world
  • A diamond in the rough
  • Brave as a lion
  • Weak as a kitten
  • Had nerves of steel
  • Ugly as sin

Clichés that Describe Life, Love, and Emotions

  • Opposites attract
  • Every cloud has a silver lining
  • Don’t cry over spilled milk
  • The calm before the storm
  • Laughter is the best medicine
  • Love you more than life itself
  • Scared out of my wits
  • Frightened to death
  • All is fair in love and war
  • All’s well that ends well
  • Haste makes waste
  • The writing’s on the wall
  • Time heals all wounds
  • What goes around comes around
  • When life gives you lemons, make lemonade
  • Head over heels in love
  • Gut-wrenching pain
  • Heart-stopping fear

Hidden Meanings in Clichés

We’ve only scratched the surface here. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of clichés in the English language. Many of them have meanings that are obvious; others have meanings that are only clear if you know the context.

Context-Driven Meanings

Some clichés can be interpreted differently based on their context. For example, “Do you think I’m made of money?” and “It’s like I’m made of money,” sound similar, right?

Interpretation-Driven Meanings

Not all clichés are necessarily true either. Some are a matter of interpretation.

  • “It’s better to have loved and lost, then to have never loved at all” is a common cliché. But you might disagree with that sentiment.

Clichés and Idioms

Idioms are figurative phrases with an implied meaning; the phrase is not to be taken literally. An example of an idiom is, “having a chip on your shoulder.” That means you think you’re better than everyone else (not that you actually have a chip of something on your shoulder).

  • Transparent — A transparent idiom shows some similarity between the literal and the intended meaning. For example, “playing your cards right” is an expression that actually came from card games and can be applied to other situations.

Have Fun with Clichés

In the end, have some fun with clichés — they are easily recognized and understood — but use them sparingly. The first conclusion people jump to when they read too many clichés is that the writer is unoriginal. While that may not be true, you don’t want to set yourself up to be knocked down.

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Teaching Writing, Grammar, Literature, and the SAT One Page at a time…

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