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Extract from a cartoon by Priestman Atkinson, from the Punch Almanack for 1885, mocking clichéd expressions in the popular literature at the time
The term is often used in modern culture for an action or idea that is expected or predictable, based on a prior event. Typically pejorative, "clichés" may or may not be true. Some are stereotypes, but some are simply truisms and facts. Clichés often are employed for comic effect, typically in fiction.
Most phrases now considered clichéd originally were regarded as striking but have lost their force through overuse. The French poet Gérard de Nerval once said, "The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile."
A cliché is often a vivid depiction of an abstraction that relies upon analogy or exaggeration for effect, often drawn from everyday experience. Used sparingly, it may succeed, but the use of a cliché in writing, speech, or argument is generally considered a mark of inexperience or a lack of originality.
The word cliché is borrowed from French, where it is a past passive participle of clicher, 'to click', used a noun; cliché is attested from 1825 and originated in the printing trades. The term cliché was adopted as printers' jargon to refer to a stereotype, electrotype, cast plate or block print that could reproduce type or images repeatedly. It has been suggested that the word originated from the clicking sound in "dabbed" printing (a particular form of stereotyping in which the block was impressed into a bath of molten type-metal to form a matrix). Through this onomatopoeia, cliché came to mean a ready-made, oft-repeated phrase.
Using a feature such as an overhanging branch to frame a nature scene may be described as a visual cliché even though it also supplies scale.
Various dictionaries recognize a derived adjective clichéd, with the same meaning.Cliché is sometimes used as an adjective, although some dictionaries do not recognize it as such, listing the word only as a noun and clichéd as the adjective.
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Clichés of general description: • I didn't see THAT comin' • "Hot as hell." • "Cold as ice." • "Dark as night." • "Bright as the sun." • "Tall as a tree." • "Light as a feather." • "Dead as a doornail." • "Smells to high heaven." • "As beautiful as a rose." • "Madder than a March Hare." • "As wide as the ocean." • "Cute as a button." • "Dumb as a rock." • "High as a kite." • "Drunk as a skunk." • "Fit as a fiddle." Clichés of color: • "Red with anger." • "Blue as the sky." • "White as snow." • "Green with envy." • "White with fear." Animal clichés: • "Angry as a hornet." • "Stubborn as a mule." • "Quiet as a mouse." • "Brave as a lion." • "Eats like a pig." • "Weak as a kitten." Colloquial clichés: • "Living high on the hog." (American South) • "—as all get-out." (A superlative expression, i.e.: "We were scared as all get-out.") (American South)
Thought-terminating clichés, also known as thought-stoppers, or semantic stopsigns, are words or phrases that discourage critical thought and meaningful discussion about a given topic. They are typically short, generic truisms that offer seemingly simple answers to complex questions or that distract attention away from other lines of thought. They are often sayings that have been embedded in a culture's folk wisdom and are tempting to say because they sound true or good or like the right thing to say. Some examples are: "Stop thinking so much", "here we go again", and "so what, what effect do my [individual] actions have?"
Skorczewski, Dawn (December 2000). ""Everybody Has Their Own Ideas": Responding to Cliche in Student Writing". College Composition and Communication. 52 (2): 220–239. doi:10.2307/358494. JSTOR358494.
Ruth Amossy; Lyons (1982). Trans. Terese Lyons. "The Cliché in the Reading Process. Trans. Terese Lyons". SubStance. University of Wisconsin Press. 11 (2.35): 34–45. doi:10.2307/3684023. JSTOR3684023.
Sullivan, Frank (1947) . "The Cliche Expert Testifies as a Roosevelt Hater". In Crane, Milton (ed.). The Roosevelt Era. New York: Boni and Gaer. pp. 237–242. OCLC275967. Mr. Arbuthnot: No sir! Nobody is going to tell me how to run my business. Q: Mr. Arbuthnot, you sound like a Roosevelt hater. A: I certainly am. Q: In that case, perhaps you could give us an idea of some of the cliches your set is in the habit of using in speaking of Mr. Roosevelt ...