Cliche: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is a Clich??
  • 0:17 Simple Clich?s
  • 1:14 What Goes Around Comes Around
  • 1:59 Clich?s and Idioms
  • 2:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
In this lesson we explore the cliché. A cliché is an overused, worn-out word or phrase and can also be an idiom, a phrase that is figurative, not literal. Although clichés should be avoided in writing, there is a place for them in the English language.

What Is a Cliché?

Clichés are generally worn-out words or phrases that have lost their distinctiveness simply by overuse. However, we use clichés, nonetheless. The idea is to use them sparingly, particularly in our writing.

Simple Clichés

Words such as 'beautiful,' 'wonderful,' 'nice,' and 'special,' are examples of simple clichés. It is true that these words convey a vague, general idea of what the speaker or writer is referring to, but none of these words serves as an adequate description of a person, place, thing or idea (a noun).

Let's say we are trying to describe a sunset. If we say, 'Oh! What a wonderful sunset,' we get the vague idea that it is a lovely sunset, but we don't know what it looks like. Is the sky painted in pinks and oranges? Does the sun look like an enormous ball of fire on the horizon of the lapping, icy sea? When we really want people to know what we are trying to express, we need to use imagery. Imagery involves painting pictures with our words. Instead of using vague clichés, we become better writers when we use very specific words to describe what we are trying to say.

What Goes Around Comes Around

Phrases like 'what goes around, comes around' are generalizations about life and do fall under the definition of clichés. Again, we get the idea of what that phrase means, but it really does beat around the bush. In fact, it is difficult to always look on the bright side of life, but life happens.

You just heard examples of four clichés, and we can see how difficult it is to pin down the meaning. That is one major problem with clichés. They lose their distinct meaning over time. It is far better for writers to take time to specifically say what they need to say. It is best to be as descriptive as possible. However, there is a legitimate place for phrases such as the ones you just heard, if they are used sparingly.

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