What Are Clichés & Why Should I Avoid Them?

What Are Clichés & Why Should I Avoid Them?


We are often told not to use clichés. In this post, we look at the definition of clichés and we tell you why you should avoid using them.

What Are Clichés?

According to Oxford, they are phrases or opinions that are overused and show a lack of original thought. Sometimes, clichés are useful to get a simple message across. Mostly, they are tired and worn out. In fact, synonyms for clichés include ‘platitudes‘ and ‘banalities‘.

Clichés also describe ideas, actions, characters, and events that are predictable or expected because they are based on something that has been done before.

For the purpose of this article, we are discussing the first definition of clichés.

Why Should I Avoid Using Clichés?

When we read clichés, our eyes skip over them. Because they have been overused, they have very little impact on readers. We also make a mental note that the author is not original and probably can’t be taken seriously.

George Orwell said: ‘Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.’

In How Clichés And Jargon Ruin Your Writing, Anthony Ehlers says: ‘When we use jargon or clichés, we create fuzziness around the image or emotion we’re trying to get across. Be as specific as you can be and authentic as you can be. Every word must have your blood in it – anger, irony, admiration, etc. Don’t make it look like everyone else’s.’

Lexico has compiled a list of common clichés to avoid:

  1. at the end of the day
  2. few and far between
  3. a level playing field
  4. in this day and age
  5. to all intents and purposes
  6. when all’s said and done
  7. in the final analysis
  8. come full circle
  9. par for the course
  10. think outside the box
  11. avoid [someone or something] like the plague
  12. in the current climate
  13. mass exodus
  14. the path of least resistance
  15. stick out like a sore thumb
  16. a baptism of fire
  17. fit for purpose
  18. in any way, shape, or form

How To Avoid Using Them

If you are writing generally:

  1. Think about what the cliché means.
  2. Look it up if you are not sure.
  3. Make a list of words that describe the cliché.
  4. Use one of those words instead or look up (relevant) variations in a thesaurus.

If this process seems irrelevant to the piece, you may want to omit the cliché altogether.

Example: ‘At the end of the day.’ could simply be ‘Ultimately.’

Exercise: Choose five of the clichés in the list (above) and rewrite them.

If you are writing creatively:

  1. Think about what it means.
  2. List the images it evokes.
  3. List the words you associate with it.
  4. Rewrite the sentence using one of the other images or one of the other words.

Example: ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’ could be rewritten like this: ‘Heavy clouds trundled across the moonless sky. The rumbling, crackling storm was minutes from breaking. It would be a long night.’

Exercise: Rewrite the five clichés below in an original, creative way.

  1. They lived happily ever after.
  2. He was as strong as a lion.
  3. She felt as if she were between a rock and a hard place.
  4. They were dressed to the nines.
  5. The gift was the icing on the cake.

Top Tip: If you need help with your grammar, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook

 by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

If you liked this blogger’s writing, you may enjoy:

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  5. What Is Subtext & How Do I Create It?
  6. 6 Differences Between A Novel & A Memoir
  7. Isn’t It Time To Invest In Your Writing?
  8. What Is A Literary Trope & Why Should I Use One?
  9. The Romantic Heroine
  10. 7 Tips For Finding Your Memoir Mojo

Top Tip: If you need help with your grammar, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook

This article has 2 comments

  1. Greg Sandoval

    I’m a former tech journalist who is now writing marketing and communications copy for startups in Silicon Valley. People here write and talk in jargon and tired cliches (maybe all industries do). The tips here are super helpful and I’d like to add one. Don’t wait until you’re on a super tight deadline to begin implementing these tips or thinking about avoiding cliches. Generating ideas on deadline isn’t always easy. Spend time during the week thinking up fresh descriptions and ideas for the terms you use most often or are badly described by others. Note them down in a notebook and you’ll have them ready when you need them. Thanks Writers Write for offering this kind of material. Very grateful.

    • Writers Write

      Thank you for the tip, Greg. It’s a great idea.
      We’re glad you enjoyed the post.

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