Thursday, June 17, 2010

What our clichés reveal about us

We all know we should try to avoid relying on clichés. We know that relying on clichés makes us lazy and deprives our readers of clearer expressions of our ideas.

But we may not be aware of another undesirable effect of relying on clichés: it can create the impression that we are not capable of independent thought.

Jacques Barzun stated* it well: “The man who cannot speak of a dim light without calling it a ‘dim, religious light,’** offends both by the pointlessness of the second adjective and by the conviction he creates in the listener that the remark has become a pure reflex.”

Most occupations don’t require independent thought; for example, bricklayers, short-order cooks and surgeons do just fine without it. But we writers need it.

The Takeaway: Don’t make your readers doubt that you can think independently. Use clichés sparingly, or not at all.

See disclaimer.

*The House of Intellect, Page 40, footnote.

**The phrase appears in John Milton’s poem “Il Penseroso,” published in the early 17th century.

1 comment:

  1. Aw, I love my cliches. I try to keep them out of my writing, but I defy anyone who lives in the South not to say "it's not the heat, it's the humidity" at least once a day.