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Title: Cliché  
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Collection: Clichés, Descriptive Technique
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"Our Three-Volume Novel at a Glance", a cartoon by Priestman Atkinson, from the Punch Almanack for 1885 (which would have been published in late 1884), a jocular look at some clichéd expressions in the popular literature of the time

A cliché or cliche ( or ) is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.[1]

In phraseology, the term has taken on a more technical meaning, referring to an expression imposed by conventionalized linguistic usage. The term is frequently used in modern culture for an action or idea that is expected or predictable, based on a prior event. Typically pejorative, "clichés" may or may not be true.[2] Some are stereotypes, but some are simply truisms and facts.[3] Clichés often are employed for comic effect, typically in fiction.

Most phrases now considered clichéd originally were regarded as striking, but have lost their force through overuse.[4] The French poet Gérard de Nerval once said "The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile."[5]

A cliché is often a vivid depiction of an abstraction that relies upon analogy or exaggeration for effect, often drawn from everyday experience.[6][7] Used sparingly, they may succeed, but the use of a cliché in writing, speech, or argument is generally considered a mark of inexperience or a lack of originality.


  • Origin 1
  • Usage 2
  • Thought-terminating cliché 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


The word cliché is drawn from the French language. In printing, "cliché" was the sound a printing plate cast from movable type made when it was used. This printing plate is also called a stereotype.[8] When letters were set one at a time, it made sense to cast a phrase used repeatedly, as a single slug of metal.[9] "Cliché" came to mean such a ready-made phrase.

Online Larousse Dictionary suggests that the word "cliché" comes from the verb "clicher" (to attach movable types to a plate), which in turn is an onomatopoeia that imitates the clicking sound made by the printing plates when in use.


Using a feature such as an overhanging branch to frame a nature scene,[10] may be described as a visual cliché even though it also supplies scale

All dictionaries consulted recognize a derived adjective clichéd, with the same meaning.[11][12][13][14] The noun cliché sometimes is used as an adjective,[12][13] although some dictionaries do not recognize the adjectival sense,[11][14] only listing its use as noun, and listing clichéd separately as an adjective.

Thought-terminating cliché

In his 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton introduced the term "thought-terminating cliché".[15] This refers to a cliché that is a commonly used phrase, or folk wisdom, sometimes used to quell cognitive dissonance. Though the clichéd phrase in and of itself may be valid in certain contexts, its application as a means of dismissing dissent or justifying fallacious logic is what makes it thought-terminating.

Lifton said:

"The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis."[15]

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the fictional constructed language Newspeak is designed to entirely eliminate the ability to express unorthodox thoughts.[16] Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World society uses thought-terminating clichés in a more conventional manner, most notably in regard to the drug soma as well as modified versions of real-life platitudes, such as "A doctor a day keeps the jim-jams away".[17]

In her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt described Adolf Eichmann as an intelligent man who used clichés and platitudes to justify his actions and the role he played in the Jewish genocide of World War II. For her, these phrases are symptomatic of an absence of thought. She wrote "When confronted with situations for which such routine procedures did not exist, he [Eichmann] was helpless, and his cliché-ridden language produced on the stand, as it had evidently done in his official life, a kind of macabre comedy. Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence."[18]

See also


  1. ^ Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly, The Elements of Technical Writing, pg. 85. New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1993. ISBN 0020130856
  2. ^ Short Story Library Thick skin and writing, cliché, but true - Published By Casey Quinn • May 10th, 2009 • Category: Casey's Corner
  3. ^ The Free Dictionary - Cliche
  4. ^  
  5. ^ Biography and Quotations of Gérard de Nerval
  6. ^ Loewen, Nancy (2011). Talking Turkey and Other Clichés We Say. Capstone. p. 11.  
  7. ^ "Definition of Cliché". Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  8. ^ "The Museum of Printing: Collection". The Museum of Printing. Retrieved 13 March 2009. 
  9. ^ Westwood, Alison. The Little Book of Clichés. Canary Press eBooks.  
  10. ^ Freeman, Michael (2004). Nature and Landscape Photography. Lark Books. p. 36.  
  11. ^ a b "cliche". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. n.d. Retrieved 2010-10-21. 
  12. ^ a b "cliché". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  13. ^ a b "cliché". Unabridged. n.d. Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  14. ^ a b Brown, Lesley, editor (1993). "cliché". New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Clarendon Press.  
  15. ^ a b Lifton, Robert J. (1989). Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China. UNC Press. p. 429.  
  16. ^ Kathleen Taylor (27 July 2006). Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control. OUP Oxford. p. 21.  
  17. ^ Aldous Huxley (1 January 2007). Brave New World. Random House. p. 163.  
  18. ^ Arendt, Hannah (1978). Mary McCarthy, ed. Thinking. The Life of the Mind. I. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 4.  

Further reading

  • Anton C. Zijderveld (1979). On Clichés: The Supersedure of Meaning by Function in Modernity. Routledge.  
  • Margery Sabin (1987). "The Life of English Idiom, the Laws of French Cliché". The Dialect of the Tribe. Oxford University Press US. pp. 10–25.  
  • Veronique Traverso and Denise Pessah (Summer 2000). "Stereotypes et cliches: Langue, discours, societe". Poetics Today (Duke University Press) 21 (3): 463–465.  
  • Skorczewski, Dawn (December 2000). ""Everybody Has Their Own Ideas": Responding to Cliche in Student Writing". College Composition and Communication 52 (2): 220–239.  
  • Ruth Amossy; Lyons (1982). Trans. Terese Lyons.. "The Cliché in the Reading Process. Trans. Terese Lyons". SubStance (University of Wisconsin Press) 11 (2.35): 34–45.  

External links

  • Clichés: Avoid Them Like the Plague – list of clichéd phrases
  • The Movie Clichés List – list of clichés in films
  • Where Clichés Come From - archived slideshow by Life magazine
  • How to Slay a Cliché - growing list of common clichés and how to recast or rewrite them.
  • Cliché Finder - database of clichés
  • Cliché - Clichés, Euphemisms, & Figures of Speech
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