Avoid Cliches Like the Plague to Stop Contributing to the Noise

There’s More to Clichés Than Meets the Eye

Clichés can kill your authority and should be avoided like the plague. But if you have used them, don’t worry: it’s no use crying over spilled milk! Think outside the box to avoid sounding like a broken record to get more bang for your buck because time, like money, doesn’t grow on trees.

Whether you’re for or against clichés, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Before you light the torches against friendly figures of speech and idioms, let’s take a closer look.

That’s so cliché!

A cliché is a phrase, opinion, or even idea that is overused and betrays a lack of thought. Whatever strength it had when it was first issued has now lost its original meaning and effect on readers – it is now cliché.

Clichés are like an anesthetic for readers by often blocking any recognition that makes the reader connect and engage with the text. Why? Because clichés lack originality. They are predictable. They are often gross exaggerations of the truth. They add to the immense noise on the web. And they may ultimately leave your readers feeling completely numb toward your message.

Figures of speech, a word or phrase used in a nonliteral sense to add rhetorical force to a spoken or written passage, are often lumped into the category of clichés and that’s unfortunate.

Here are some examples of figures of speech that have often received the black-listed label of a cliché by critics:

  • avoid like the plague
  • falling in love
  • back to the drawing board
  • racking our brains
  • broken record
  • climbing the ladder of success
  • don’t cry over spilled milk
  • breaking the glass ceiling
  • broke the bank
  • light as a feather
  • when it rains, it pours
  • think outside the box
  • money doesn’t grow on trees
  • throw (someone) under the bus
  • more bang for your buck

In moderation, each of the above figures of speech can be useful in great writing today. A well-placed figure of speech or idiom may help convey a particular thought or feeling as well as make an otherwise difficult topic more approachable. The key is to use the occasional figure of speech as a tool to convey your own original ideas; simply ensure your own original ideas shine above the figure of speech.

Here’s what’s really wrong with clichés …

Let’s open another can of worms: Cliché settings and ideas. Easily recognizable in movies – the heroes riding off into the sunset, rain falling on the face of the man whose love will never be returned, and even the line “Whatever you do, don’t look down” – clichés are an easy go to for writers, but they’re not memorable.

Think about that line, “Whatever you do, don’t look down.” The camera pans down as the person, not following the directions, looks down and there’s a pit of snakes or scorpions, perhaps a tank of sharks or piranhas, and maybe it’s an unfathomable drop that’s supposed to make you gasp in fear. You’ve seen it right? Can you name the movie in less than 30 seconds? If you can, good for you! However, if you’re like most people (i.e., the majority of your readers), you can’t name one movie in under 30 seconds that uses this line.

What this means is cliché settings and ideas aren’t limited to figures of speech. They are in movies and even article topics too. The dozens of “Get Rich Quick,” “Lose Belly Fat,” “Get Your Ex Back,” and “Home Based Business Guide to Financial Freedom” articles that provide the same vague tips over and over in fact are cliché. The settings of these articles may not be considered plagiarized because the words are not identical, nor are the ideas considered derivative because the information is technically original to that author, but these are just technicalities. An unoriginal idea no matter how you dress it is unoriginal – it’s cliché. After seeing the same clichés presented again and again in article after article, your reader won’t be able to attribute that idea to you or your organization even with more than 30 seconds to think on it.

How to avoid writing ANY cliché.

Be imaginative. Be creative. Be MEMORABLE. Write content that’s original, connects with readers, and innovates. We know that it’s easy to look at what’s currently taking the web by storm and it may seem appealing to replicate it in your own fashion, but you won’t be able to rise above the noise by creating or perpetuating a cliché. Stop writing average content and create remarkable content by taking initiative in your niche – have a vision and take a risk by pursuing it.

For more information on this topic, visit: Embrace the Truth: Your Brand Doesn’t Really Matter to Readers

Next, practice descriptive writing:

  • Include vivid details that appeal to the readers’ senses
  • Create meaningful analogies, similes, and metaphors
  • Use precise language that use specific adjectives, exacting nouns, and strong action verbs
  • Organize your writing to be conducive to the presentation of your original idea

For more information on this topic, visit: Descriptive Writing Examples and Methods to Engage Readers

Finally, when you find yourself using one too many figures of speech, be mindful that you can rewrite the sentence to remove verbiage and appease the cliché critics. For example:

  • “in this day and age” becomes “today”
  • “par for the course” becomes “normal” or “average”
  • “light as a feather” becomes “delicate,” “light,” or “airy”

Rise above the mediocre noise on the Internet by using these tips to avoid clichés. Not only will your skills as an Expert Author improve, you’ll be able to create memorable content that connects with your readers who will engage with and share it.

For more information on authority killers, visit: 20 Embarrassing Authority Killers That Will Make Readers Flee En Masse

Between you, me, and the entire EzineArticles Blog community, we can create a master cliché list here and now. What annoying clichés do you frequently see? Share them in the comments section – we’d love to hear from you!

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Terry Weber writes:

A cliche that always rubs me the wrong way and makes mad is:
“Honestly now…”
The speaker or writer often drops in this phrase rather glibly. It makes me wonder: is he/she now telling the truth, whereas previously everything said or written was a lie?

Comment provided December 4, 2013 at 9:59 AM


davidinnotts writes:

Of course, we have to remember where clichs came from – each one began life as a memorable phrase that caught the attention so well that everyone loved it and wanted to use it. And they did. And did. And…

Comment provided December 4, 2013 at 12:04 PM


Rob Wilson writes:

Wow. Excellent article – thanks for reminding us writers to w.r.i.t.e. in such a persuasive way.

Big over-used cliche/phrase: “on a regular basis” or “on a daily basis” or “on a weekly basis.” Why not just come out and say it: regularly, daily, weekly. Duh! Pet peeve of yours truly.

Comment provided December 4, 2013 at 12:13 PM


Sharon writes:

I’ve always liked taking cliches and twisting them to make them more original, especially in headlines when I worked as a newspaper editor.
I’ve always thought that was a good way to capture a reader’s attention, using something they were very familiar with but in a new way.
I do agree that cliches and figures of speech need to be used sparingly and with great care.

Comment provided December 4, 2013 at 12:27 PM


Gary Baker writes:

“In this author’s experience” is my #1 least favorite phrase. It’s a sign to that I need to put the book down and back away very slowly without making direct eye contact.

Comment provided December 4, 2013 at 2:16 PM


Matthew Morris writes:

I hear that! It is always a good rule of thumb when writing to make sure that you get your head in the game first. Haste makes waste and you are likely to end up with a result that is hard to swallow. Poorly constructed articles will leave your readers madder than a wet hen.

Comment provided December 4, 2013 at 5:53 PM


Kevin writes:

systemic ……….. errrrr A few especially one on Penn Ave has wore it out in politics today! It doesn’t even relate to what they are using it to. I looked it up some time ago and it originated in use with the body
1. Of or relating to systems or a system.
a. Relating to or affecting the entire body or an entire organism: systemic symptoms; a systemic poison.
b. Relating to or affecting a particular body system, especially the nervous system: a systemic lesion.
c. Physiology Of or relating to systemic circulation.

I got several more but no time to write right now.
Kevin Laffoon

Comment provided December 4, 2013 at 6:26 PM


Dr. Chuck writes:

A Penny for your thoughts. Dr. Chuck

Comment provided December 4, 2013 at 9:42 PM



Nice post. One should realize the facts while living in the ivory tower.

Comment provided December 4, 2013 at 10:23 PM


Gracious Store writes:

Thanks for this post! There are phrases I did not know they are cliches

Comment provided December 4, 2013 at 10:39 PM


Mike Andrews writes:

Now I am fully aware of the fact that a phrase that I think that I only invented could be a clich.

Comment provided December 5, 2013 at 7:12 AM


davidinnotts writes:

That’s the problem, Mike – especially if English isn’t your first language. We pick up a lot of phrases that seem to be obviously good and just ‘part of the language’, but they’re actually clichs.

How can we tell? Generally because the phrase isn’t straightforward, but has some clever twist that delights the ear. The problem is, that a clever twist isn’t always so felicitous the thousandth time we hear it! And that’s why innovation can turn into clich as it’s copied and recopied. If we didn’t know better, we’d read a Shakspere play and accuse the Bard of making his characters speak in clichs – after all, so much of what they say we can read again and again in other people’s writing. But he said it first – and that makes all the difference.

And that’s where Sharon (4) and Matthew (5) have it right. Avoid these common but not plain speech phrases; they’re probably clichs. Instead, write in plain, expressive English and if you do use one of those clever phrases, twist it a little, or invent your own.

How can one tell a clich? Google the phrase in quotes, and see what comes up. If it’s a cliche, the contextual text on the first few Google results pages will tell you right away.


Andre Yong writes:

Great article. My thoughts exactly.

Comment provided December 5, 2013 at 10:33 AM


Ruth Yoerg writes:

Some Cliche are hard to understand because they don’t get to the real meaning of the sentence. I like articles that are straight forward and clear.

Comment provided December 5, 2013 at 2:58 PM



Thanks for the article!

Take note of the following:

as fresh as a daisy
as beautiful as a rose
cold as ice
hard as stone
take the bull by the horns
white as snow
be true blue

but then,

writers can be more imaginative!

A blessed Friday Ezine and all!

SMile! — is that a cliche? However, smile!

Comment provided December 5, 2013 at 8:10 PM


Emily writes:

wrack our brains. not rack.
You never know the weight of ‘Make hay while the sun shines’ until you own a ranch and pray it does not rain when you have cut it and it is drying before it’s baled. Your whole crop can be destroyed unless it’s just a sprinkle.
I could write an article about that cliche.

In metaphysics, a cliche is a certain kind of entity.

Comment provided December 7, 2013 at 9:23 PM


David Croucher writes:

Yes, Emily, wrack. It’s strange that plain English expressions like this on can turn into cliche because the ‘plain base’ for them has passed into disuse – like this one. ‘Wrack’ is hardly used now except in a few expressions like this, so it’s viewed as a cliche.

Same goes for ‘make hay while the sun shines’. Almost a proverb, it’s actually plain common sense for farmers in the literal usage – you wouldn’t want to harvest hay while it’s damp! But it’s overused metaphorically, so out it goes. In England, where the expression began, summer dry spells were often far too few – so when the sun DID shine, everything else stopped until the hay was cut, turned and put under cover. Of course, these days we have silage…


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