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Eliminating Cliches In English

May 23rd, 2008

Over the years, many developing writers have learned that using clichés is the primary mark of an unskilled writer. While clichés may sound impressive or clever, they are also so common that they do very little to convey the original nature of your thoughts about a particular subject. Unfortunately, when people are learning English as a second language, there can be a strong tendency to rely on clichés. Whether this comes from studying phrase books or from pop-culture references, you’ll want to be aware of this phenomenon to help eliminate unnecessary clichés from your vocabulary.

In order to curtail their usage, we must first define what a “cliché” is. Dictionary.com defines the word as “a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.” Cliché’s can be found throughout the English language and include such phrases as “stronger than an ox” or “sadder but wiser.”

Clichés as a Security Mechanism

When you’re trying to communicate in a foreign language, you’ll want to do everything possible to make sure that you’re understood. When you hear clichés and understand them, it’s easy to assume that native English speakers will be able to understand you clearly. In addition, because clichés often convey a sense of fun, humor, or other emotional content, you might feel that they are way to express or gain empathy. Unfortunately, because we tend to be desensitized to clichés, they are almost useless in this capacity.

It’s best to concentrate on developing your own mode of expression, so that others can recognize that you are trying to convey something unique. While this may take some extra effort, it’s well worth it. Each time you use a cliché to make sure you are understood, go back and look for a more unique sentence to express your meaning. This is especially easy to do when you’re writing, since you can go back and read what you wrote and systematically eliminate clichés. If you find yourself using clichés often during a conversation, spend some time looking in a dictionary or thesaurus for more appropriate words.

Clichés and Language Rhythm

Without question, clichés catch on because they sound interesting – whether a cliché carries a rhyming pattern or conveys a sense of humor, people just seem to want to repeat them. However, it’s important to realize that simple, direct sentences will go much further to convey sincerity and clarity than clichés. Even if you want to write or convey something humorous, it’s best to take the time to develop your own unique means of expression.

Unfortunately, the habit of using clichés can become fixed fairy quickly in non-native speakers. Even people that learned English as a primary language may use clichés too often in their writing and verbal conversations. The sooner you eliminate clichés from your vocabulary, the sooner you’ll be on the way to speaking and writing English in a clearer, more professional manner. You may even notice that finding your own method of expression makes adapting to English an enjoyable and rewarding process.