The missing definition, from Merriam-Webster...

Function: noun
Etymology: French, literally, "printer's stereotype." Derived from the past participle of "clicher," to stereotype, of imitative origin.
Date: 1892

1 : a trite phrase or expression; also : the idea expressed by it
2 : a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation
3 : something (as a menu item) that has become overly familiar or commonplace

...and a poem...

The sun shining down upon
your gentle face
showing its warmth
set against your

The Careful Use of a Cliche

For the Novice Writer

Here is an exercise suggested by the Australian author John Marsden: write down the word 'glass'. Write under it ten words to describe 'glass'. Now cross them all out and think of something original.

For this and other wisdom, consult "Everything I know about Writing", by said author.

At some stage I will node Everything I know about Writing. Until then, settle for this:
The best way to write is to write what is in you. Don't stop and try to find a fancy phrase when a simple one will do. But at the same time, think of every word you write as a poem. Is there a word that expresses your meaning more concisely or precisely? Have you heard that phrase before? Never rattle off a paragraph that is mediocre when, with a little practise and patience, it could be excellent.

Before you become too concerned with avoiding cliche, consider also that a cliche is a cliche because it works. Simple, everyday cliches are a way of providing a framework for communication. "Hi, how are you?" is a perfectly acceptable cliche. Don't look down on it for it's commodity! Use it as a means to understand spoken language.

Back to the other side of the argument. Just because "Hi, how are you?" is fine in the real world, there are few occasions when writing this would be in any way acceptable. It's boring. Cliches are only useful in writing when they significantly advance the plot, setting or character of a story, and should be used with discretion. An elegantly placed cliche can do many things. Please be careful with it.

None of the writeups above has explained where clichés come from.

Clichés date back to the early days of movable type. It was found useful to keep well-used phrases set in type in order to save time when printing newspapers. These were kept as blocks ( cliché is French for 'engraved block') and used so often that the more modern use of the word became attached to them.

According to a recent discussion on alt.books.pratchett the first cliché recorded was 'described as a respectable married woman', and the author Terry Pratchett says that as late as the 1960s trays of clichés were kept at the local paper where he worked for use as headlines.

Cli`ch'e" (?), n. [F. clich'e, from clicher to stereotype.]

A stereotype plate or any similar reproduction of ornament, or lettering, in relief.

Clich'e casting, a mode of obtaining an impression from a die or woodcut, or the like, by striking it suddenly upon metal which has been fused and is just becoming solid; also, the casting so obtained.


© Webster 1913.

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