In Praise of the ClichĂ©: Blue-sky thinking: banality or ancient wisdom?
In the past week, I have taken a rain check, stared down the elephant in the room, and been my own worst enemy in more ways than one.
I am not proud. As Nigel Fountain, author of a new book ClichĂ©s: Avoid Them Like the Plague (Michael OâMara), would tell me, I am guilty of repetition, banality and confirmation of the expected.
In my defence, itâs been a week of extremes. Or do I mean two halves? It began in New York City just in time for Hurricane Sandy and ended with a very, very long train ride down to Florida to meet Bubbles, Michael Jacksonâs chimpanzee companion of the 1980s. Midway through, I found myself on a late night call with a writer friend. He was taking things a day at a time, I was going back to the drawing board. Then we heard ourselves. Did it make us only more clichĂ©d that we were fretting so much about using them? Are there some clichĂ©s that are simply unavoidable?
The word itself originates in mid-19th century France, where printers would assemble time-saving blocks from the most commonly used word combinations. Fountain hews to that broad definition, and his A-Z of shame embraces buzz-words and bromides as well as adages, truisms and idioms. From âaffluent societyâ to âzero-sum gameâ they are all, he argues, either redundant, vacuous or overused to the point of meaninglessness.
Many seem to be derived from the sporting world, which has moved the goal posts, given us the level playing field, and ârun withâ plenty. Politicians have engaged in dirty tricks and spent more time with their families, while MBA holders have come up with the scientifically wobbly concept of corporate DNA. The inclusion of Kafkaesque proves that artsier types are not immune to clichĂ© coinage (it was referred to as âthe K-wordâ by the chair of a literature prize I once helped judge).