Hitting the frog and toad

Word count: 343           Reading time: 1-2 minutes 

When the LM takes a motorcycle trek, he always avoids what he and his mates call the super slab – those long boring bits of multi-lane highway that are the most efficient routes from A to Z. Efficiency is good, it has its place in our lives but, for a truly pleasurable experience, the road not commonly taken offers so much more.

Clichés are the super slab of our language. I love them. They allow us to converse in shorthand. How are you today? Can’t complain, no one listens. Fair to middling (or muddling for variety). When I first moved to Australia the idiom no worries was unique to that culture but it’s crossed the Pacific and is as common here now as the ubiquitous have a good day (which I notice has been upgraded in some places to excellent or awesome day). Idiom becomes cliché when it’s over-used and no longer exclusively understood or used by a particular group. On that basis I suggest that no worries is no longer an Australian speciality, it’s a cliché.

Still clichés let us travel from point A to point B with a minimum of thought and a high degree of efficiency. Like the super slab they are soulless experiences. A problem for writers is that clichés are so fixed in speech they can creep into our writing if we aren’t vigilant. Luckily we have sites like ClichéSite and the westegg ClichéFinder to double check any phrase that pops into our heads a little too easily. It’s also possible to cut and paste whole tracts of prose into another ClichéFinder site for easier identification.

At the end of the day we all know better than to use the really tired clichés (that one alone is rated journalism’s worst by Chris Pash), but what about cliché characters? How do you avoid them? Do you use The Female Character Flowchart to make sure your protagonist can hold her own? Or do you go to sites like listal to make sure you haven’t taken the super slab by mistake?

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Photo by: Alan Bolitho, LM