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5 Comments

  • Thank you for this article. It was so good to hear that these word choices drive others as crazy as they do me. [validization?] 😉

  • Wait .let me get this straight: so when people use cliches, they are desperate to be accepted or show their membership in a class; when you ride in on your high horse of “why some people continue using them in the face of widespread ridicule is less easy to understand”, that is not a desperate attempt to show how modern and linguistically intelligent you are? Riiight.

    Any serious linguist will tell you that everything that exists in any given language has its place and time. and often people have to come up with new expressions to express new concepts. Making fun of any aspect thereof is no less desperate than overusing cliches. And what is the better, more concise way of saying “friendly fire”? It’s not a euphemism. It’s not a mask. It means exactly what t says – someone on our side (friendly) fired a weapon (fire). Parroting cliche accusations without even an attempt to analyze what you’re writing also reeks of despair to be accepted in the “young, hip, linguistically conscious” circles.

    Want a cliche? I have one for you: Just sayin’.

  • Thanks Dozen Matter: I’d have to agree that deciding what’s a cliché and what isn’t can be tricky. Our guiding principle is always to look at the data (rather than just making subjective judgments), and the evidence suggests that expressions like ‘low-hanging fruit’ – even if they encode useful concepts – have crossed that line (see e.g. their regular appearance in games like ‘Bullsh*t Bingo’).You’re right that ‘people have to come up with new expressions to express new concepts’ – neologisms generally arise to fill a perceived ‘lexical gap’. The question is when a fresh new term, coined for good reasons, ends up as a cliché. Our own definition of cliché isn’t a bad starting place: it’s an expression that has become ‘boring because people use it a lot and it is no longer original’. A nice example is the well-known metaphor of ‘life as a journey’, eloquently expressed in poems like Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. In recent years this trope has been repeatedly employed by people in reality TV shows like the X-Factor – everyone feels obliged to talk about the ‘journey’ they have been on. So what starts as an interesting and even profound idea becomes – through constant repetition – a cliché: at first it’s just banal, then irritating, and finally the object of ridicule – and not just among the ‘young, hip, and linguistically conscious’ (I’m at most only the last of those three I’m afraid).