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The cliché page

We speak, write, even think in clichés, and with good reason. Clichés gained wide usage because they captured a truth we recognize in a form that once seemed fresh, amusing, or particularly apt. But now they're so hackneyed they are meaningless, or worse, mangled and misused to obscure meaning.

So first, try to avoid them. But if you're going to use a cliché, get it right. Better yet, put on a new twist that lets us know you know what you're doing.

Whole books are devoted to this topic, but here are some phrases worthy of note, often because they are not only clichéd but incorrect:

  • Take a different tact. No, it's different tack, from the sailing term meaning to turn quickly. Tact would be putting something politely or diplomatically, not taking a different direction.
  • The fact of the matter is... Usually precedes the writer's or speaker's opinion, whether or not it's based on fact.
  • Hone in on. Try home in, the way a homing pigeon finds its way back to the nest. To hone is to sharpen, as in a knife, or your point.


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On the Web

  • Wikipedia A longer explanation of clichés, with links to more word geek sources.
  • Cliché Web One of the better "volunteer" sites. Quick, easy to use, and (a spot check shows) generally correct, if not robust.

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Just search on "dictionary of clichés." You'll get a discouragingly long list.

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...before you commit a cliché to paper, blog or tweet.

Vast majority. If you know the true proportion, state it. Otherwise this cliché makes you sound like you’re overinflating something you don’t really know. Get extra precision points for correctly using plurality, meaning the largest share of the whole, but falling short of 50%.

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