Do Clichés and Idioms Trip You Up?
As writers, we’re in the business of communication. Words are our weapons, our tools; a balm for troubled waters, our call to arms. Writing in the English language is a unique privilege. It’s complex, tricky and constantly evolving; altering endlessly in response to our ever-changing world.
Modern English, described by some as the global lingua franca, originally came to light in medieval England and promptly underwent centuries of tinkering and tweaks.
The result is now the most widely used language around the world. And it’s a monster. A living, growing mass of complexity, adding new words and rules as fast as it discards the old and outmoded.
And, as you may expect from such an evolutionary process, English can be awash with confusions. As a native English speaker, you’d think there wouldn’t be a problem writing in the language I’ve spoken all my life?
Sometimes, even seasoned professionals get flummoxed and dive for their references.
If the natives find it confusing, what is it like for others?
Don’t let this trip you up. For example, consider the following question and its simple answers.
The Big Question
Are idioms and clichés the same?
No, they’re not.
Idioms and clichés are two different things, but idioms can be clichés and clichés can be idioms. Even so, they should be kept separate.
So, what’s the difference between them?
An idiom is a phrase in common use (in any language) where the words mean something other than the standard definition.
For example, the phrase “It’s raining cats and dogs,” has nothing to do with cats or dogs but means it’s raining hard. Idioms are tricky to learn unless you are a native speaker or have spent time in the country.
A cliché is a phrase or expression that has been used so much over the years that it has lost its freshness, even becoming trite or annoying. A cliché can be an idiom, simile or metaphor.
Using a cliché in writing or debate is commonly thought to show inexperience and writers should avoid them.
An example of a cliché would be “All’s well that ends well,” an overused phrase meaning that as long as the outcome is positive, the problems encountered along the way are irrelevant.
Then again it can be a matter of opinion. What is considered a cliché in one place is not necessarily a cliché elsewhere. And, since so many idioms are clichés somewhere or another, realistic dialogue naturally includes some clichés; the ones your characters would normally use.
There’s an epitaph to this story
This is a brilliant take on favorite business clichés–it’s not very long–but it (and the comments) give a humorous overview of just how invasive clichés can be.