by John M. Floyd
All of us, whether we’re writers or not, have pet peeves. One of mine is clichés. Or at least certain clichés.
Why do they bother me so? Think of it this way . . .
One of my favorite TV commercials of the past several years features a guy standing in his house flipping a switch on the wall, on and off, over and over again. While he’s doing this, he’s calling to his wife, who’s in the other room and paying no attention whatsoever, “Honey, what’s this switch for?” Meanwhile, somewhere down the street, an old lady is sitting horrified and wide-eyed in her car, watching her garage door crash down on her hood, raise up again, and crash down, in perfect time with Doofus’s switch-flipping.
The first time I saw that commercial, I howled like a hyena (is that a cliché?). I even laughed at it the second time, and probably the third. But after maybe the tenth viewing, the novelty was gone. It was still funny, and I appreciated the humor, but I barely chuckled, and pretty soon I got tired of watching it. After a couple months or so, I was sick of it.
Same thing happens with clichés. The first time we as readers/writers see a witty phrase in a story or a book, it’s catchy and interesting and impressive. Why? Because it’s new. It’s fresh. I wish I’d thought of that, we think. The next time we see it (or hear it, in a movie or a newscast or even an office conversation) it’s not as striking, and before long it becomes as boring as an old joke. In the literary world, the overuse of anything is risky — and besides, writers are expected to be original.
What are some of the worst clichés? That’s a matter of opinion. Here are some that I find particularly irritating:
Amazing. The other day I saw a contestant on a TV show tell the host, “I have an amazing boyfriend.” I couldn’t help wondering what made him so amazing. No one should say that except (possibly) Lois Lane.
A sense of closure. I cringe when I hear this one — and boy do I hear it a lot. I’ve told my writing students it better not show up in the manuscripts they give me to critique.
110 %. Someone needs to explain to me (and most sportscasters) how an athlete could ever give 110 % on the playing field. I suppose that would be truly amazing.
The whole enchilada/the whole nine yards/the whole ball of wax. I can’t even imagine how these got started, and I probably don’t want to know.
Ground zero. Anyone using this phrase should be forced to stand there during the explosion.
24/7. It seems I hear this one used 24/7.
All about . . . A while back I saw a campaign ad where the candidate gazed solemnly into the camera and said, “I’m all about the people.” I voted against him for that reason alone.
Serious as a heart attack. I wasn’t crazy about this one the first time I heard it. After the 100th time I was ready to gag myself with a spoon. (Oops, that’s a cliché too.)
Give it your best shot. Enough said.
Awesome. This one isn’t old old, like “groovy” or “swell,” but it’s getting there. The Grand Canyon (and maybe Chet Atkins’s guitar playing) is awesome. Your brother’s new iPod, or your date’s outfit, or your friend’s suggestion to go to the movies, probably isn’t.
Ratchet up. This is what you need to do to your self-editing skills, if you use this phrase.
What are the clichés you love to hate? All of us have a few.
And that’s the bottom line . . .