Tell it to the Marines
(or clichés, counterwords and commonplace phrases)©2012
By C.D. Hersh
I love the wonderful world of clichés. From the time we are babes in the bosom of our family to a ripe old age to the final days when we are six feet under, we are inundated with clichés. They conjure up vivid images, some that make sense and others that don’t. We all can identify with someone being in the same boat (we’re in it together) or flog a dead horse (it’s useless). But what about she eats like a bird? It’s meant to say a person doesn’t eat much, but have you ever watched birds? They eat all the time.
A lot of the phrases can make a long story short when you’re trying to explain yourself to a sea of faces, especially if you don’t have a leg to stand on regarding whatever you’re explaining. A shrug and the excuse the best laid plans of mice and men or accidents will happen can often get us off the hook. Clichés can help us roll with the punches, make short work of our writing or pass the time of day. We can put a bee in our heroine’s bonnet and give her butterflies in her stomach or bury that hatchet in the victim’s back and keep the perp who did a number on him cool as a cucumber. You can politely excuse yourself by going to see a man about a horse (or a dog). As long as you don’t come back with the aforementioned animals everyone will know you went for a potty break.
Let’s face it, clichés have a vise-like grip on most of us. We sprinkle them in our speech and in our writing when we want to make a quick point that doesn’t need explaining. After all, who doesn’t know what tired as a dog or apple pie order or wreathed in smiles means? We have a hard time turning over a new leaf and finding new idioms because we’re so in touch with those old as the hill phrases. How many times have you set your heart on an expression to only have your critique partners hack it to bits like it was a snake in the grass? That just adds insult to injury, especially when all those clichés are a labor of love.
As strange as it seems, our love of clichés isn’t going to win us our spurs with editors and agents. They may use clichés when they speak, like the rest of us, but they don’t think they’re worth the paper they’re written on. Using clichéd writing won’t help us pay the piper, keep the wolf from the door, make us rich as Croesus or get us the red carpet treatment. What it will do is rub editors the wrong way and make them beat a hasty retreat, which will cause our manuscripts to bite the dust and plunge us to the depths of despair when we are rejected, and that will put us between a rock and a hard place…if you know what I mean.
So here’s a word to the wise … avoid those cans of worms like the plague before they get a chance to take the wind out of your sails. Gird up your loins, put on your thinking cap and wash your hand of those clichés. Rid your writing of ugly ducklings in favor of a few, fresh as a daisy, well chosen words that will rock the editors’ world, and you’ll be a roaring success. Would I lie to you?
If you think this post is too funny for words, leave me a few— words, that is—fresh or old. While you’re here take a guess at how many cliches I’ve used. And remember, I do love clichés , after all…believe you me.