English Literature


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The Prevalence and Consequences of Clichés: Uncovering Their Influence on Effective Communication

Without even realizing it, our language is riddled with clichéd phrases. From "put yourself in someone else's shoes" to "addressing the elephant in the room", these common idioms have become a staple in our daily conversations. However, could our reliance on these overused expressions be hindering our ability to truly connect and communicate with others?

Clichés are often associated with negative connotations, rooted in their definition. In literature, the use of clichés is deemed as poor writing and is associated with "low culture". But is it possible to breathe new life into a cliché by subverting its meaning or utilizing it as a literary tool?

The Meaning Behind Cliché

Every cliché was once a unique and original phrase. However, over time, these phrases have become diluted by their excessive use, resulting in a loss of originality and substance.

In simple terms, a cliché is a phrase or element in a work of art that has been overused to the point of losing its impact.

Familiar Cliché Phrases

Cliché phrases are short and tend to sound convincing and persuasive, making them easy to remember and repeat. They often convey truisms, which are statements of undeniable truth, or platitudes, which are moral statements that may seem conclusive.

For instance, expressions like "it is what it is" and "good things come to those who wait" are overused truisms. These phrases may have been popularized by Shakespeare, as seen in "love is blind" from The Merchant of Venice, "the world is your oyster" from The Merry Wives of Windsor, and "forever and a day" from The Taming of the Shrew.

Avoiding Repetitive Descriptions

Writers can also fall into the trap of using clichéd descriptions, such as "the sun was a glowing ball of fire" or "her eyes were like the ocean". These phrases may initially appear vivid and descriptive, but due to their frequent use, they have lost their impact.

Clichés in Storytelling

Clichés go beyond just phrases; they can also be found in overused elements of storytelling, such as symbols, plot points, and character archetypes. For example, a crow symbolizing bad luck or water representing rebirth are cliché symbols, while a virtuous woman falling for a roguish man or a scene turning out to be a dream are cliché plot points.

These repetitive elements are often referred to as "tropes". In literature, a trope is defined as a figure of speech or a storytelling device.

Utilizing Clichés as a Literary Technique

Ironically, clichés can also be used as a literary device. When a cliché is deliberately utilized as an element in a text rather than being a byproduct of unoriginal writing, it can serve as a tool for the author to create meaning instead of diluting it.

The Risks of Reliance on Clichés

However, leaning on clichés can reveal a lack of original thought and personal conviction. Instead of forming our own opinions on matters, we often resort to these overused phrases as a means of avoiding deeper reflection and analysis.

Yet, by refraining from clichés, writers can develop unique and imaginative descriptions and plot points that allow readers to see the world in a refreshing light. For instance, in James Joyce's Ulysses, he describes the night sky as "the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit", utilizing unexpected language and imagery to create a captivating and lasting impression.

The Politics of Clichés

Clichés can also hinder genuine and meaningful communication and debate. Philosopher Hannah Arendt argues that these overused expressions serve as a shield against reality, preventing us from fully engaging and grappling with crucial issues.

In addition, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton suggests that clichés can be used as a tool for brainwashing by totalitarian governments, as they have the power to strip language of its depth and significance.

In conclusion, although clichés may seem like harmless phrases we use in our everyday conversations, they can significantly affect our communication and understanding of the world. By avoiding clichéd expressions and instead striving for original and authentic language, we can truly connect and communicate with others on a deeper level.

The Impact of Clichés on Critical Thinking

Clichés, commonly used phrases that provide oversimplified answers, can hinder critical thinking by discouraging individuals from examining their situations. Known as 'thought-terminating clichés', these overused phrases can prevent people from fully understanding and questioning their circumstances.

One such cliché, 'it is what it is', promotes complacency and upholds the status quo. This phrase implies that individuals are powerless to change negative situations, discouraging further critical thinking or debate.

The Power of Clichés in Literature

Despite their lack of originality, clichés can be effectively used by authors in unique ways. Some meaningful purposes for using clichés include:

  • Characterization
  • To highlight the limitations and complexities of language and communication
  • To subvert expectations through irony or word manipulation

Let's explore some examples of meaningful cliché usage in literary works:

In Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance of Being Earnest, the character Algernon says, "Divorces are made in heaven." This subverts the cliché 'marriages are made in heaven' and satirizes the repressive institution of marriage in Victorian society. It also characterizes Algernon as frivolous and unscrupulous.

In Vladimir Nabokov's novel, Lolita, the protagonist Humbert Humbert uses clichés to demonstrate the shallow and twisted nature of his obsession with a young girl. For instance, he states, "Life is short...we shall live happily ever after." This use of clichés mocks the clichéd language of romance and reveals Humbert Humbert's delusional mindset.

In Samuel Beckett's tragicomedy, Happy Days, the character Winnie uses clichés such as "this is going to be a happy day" and "keep yourself nice." These clichés serve as a defense mechanism for Winnie, shielding her from the harsh reality and existential questions that may arise.

In conclusion, while clichés may have lost their originality and significance through overuse, they can still make impactful statements, subvert expectations, and develop characters in literature. However, in our everyday lives, it is important to recognize the influence of clichés and not let them discourage critical thinking and examination of our situations.

Avoiding Clichés in Literature and Writing

In literature, clichés are phrases or elements that have been overused, causing them to lose their impact and creativity. Authors can avoid clichés by utilizing unique and unexpected combinations of words. For example, James Joyce describes the night sky as "the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit" in Ulysses, creating a more evocative image than a clichéd description of the moon and stars.

To identify clichés, pay attention to commonly used expressions. If a phrase or description seems overly familiar, it is most likely a cliché.

In writing, clichés can be avoided by steering away from overused character types and plot points, such as love triangles. Instead, authors can subvert reader expectations and explore unique outcomes for a truly original and engaging story.

In conclusion, while clichés may have a negative connotation in critical thinking, they can still serve a purpose in literature if used thoughtfully and intentionally. It is important for both readers and writers to be aware of clichés and their influence, in order to promote critical thinking and originality in all forms of expression.

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