10 September 2023

What makes a cliché?


What makes a cliché?


The consensus about clichés is that they are ideas, expressions and even artistic works that have become overused making a cliché meaningless and, in many cases, irritating.


But first some examples: A waste of time; In the nick of time; Old as the hills; What I want to focus on; and in a political context, I won’t comment on individual cases! The list of clichés is endless but I included these examples to save you the bother of searching for examples.


As I suggested in the introduction, clichés are in all aspects of our life, and our language is the main source of clichés since we mainly interact with each other through language. In the 21st Century, visual communication, through photos and videos, is as important for us as any other form of communication: eg emoticon, avatar, images, videos, fancy fonts and so on.


In art, we can refer to Caspar David Friedrich paining, Wanderer above the sea of fog, as an image of the back view of a man overlooking a cliff, as a clear example of excellent artistic work. Today such an image could very well be a cliché in art, and by art I include photography. Of course, this is not the only painting of such a composition and won’t be the last. But with the advent of photography, and digital photography in particular, taking images of back of people is regarded as a cliché. Some Facebook groups on street photography aggressively discourage cliché photos in general, and backs of people in particular.


And for those who follow vloggers (especially American vloggers) would be familiar with such emotional expressions as: “it’s awesome”, “cool” and the one I dislike most, “I’m so excited…!” But I am the first to recognise that these words/expressions are legitimate terms and should not always be considered as negative forms of speech. There is a place for everything.


Even if an expression, or idea or whatever has become overused to the point of being annoying, has no meaning or maybe has no effect does this mean that clichés have no intrinsic values. I would argue that clichés might be bad writing, but this is not enough to make clichés outcasts from human communication.


We need to distinguish between overuse from improper use. Hence, the problem does not start with the language expression (or visual expression) itself (i.e. the cliché) but with those who use these clichés. For example, no one regards “I love you” as a cliché or “how about a kiss?”: maybe not the latter.


Even in the 21st century, people can still be wrong and can still misuse language. This means that sometimes clichés do have a legitimate use, do have a meaning and are not always negative.


Many have argued (search the topic) that clichés have no meaning, or lost their meaning and may or may not be true. But language and visual expressions do convey a meaning and do have a purpose. That purpose is, I would argue, to arouse or engage the emotions of the listener or viewer. Unfortunately, the emotional characteristics of language are easily forgotten in the regimented approach of teaching and learning languages. It is not that something might not be cool, or fab, or great, or exciting but not everything is cool, awesome, great or exciting.


In politics, clichés have an important role in understanding political philosophy. Take the example I gave above: I won’t comment on individual cases. This is a very common utterance by politicians and in most instances it is used to avoid answering awkward questions about something they or their party are responsible for. We know why they use this cliché and it’s precisely to avoid saying something ridiculous that might incriminate them later on. The abundant use of clichés by politicians maybe an indication of high levels of political bovine manure!


Best and take care








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