Clichés are to conversation what fast food is to gourmet cuisine. They have no value, serve no artistic or practical purpose, and irrevocably corrode our culture. They should be eliminated from our speech and language post-haste.
But clichés are as common and popular as air and water.
As someone who makes his living writing the English language (a beautiful tongue that has produced some of the world’s finest poetry and literature), clichés particularly rankle and bother me.
The excessive use of clichés -- in television, movies, newspapers and daily conversation -- has become so pervasive that few even notice it, much less complain about it. In regular conversation how often have you heard people use such phrases as “no problem,” “you know,” “like, whatever,” and myriad others that torture the ear?
These terms have absolutely no meaning, and I think people use them as a kind of "placeholder" for thoughts they cannot otherwise elucidate. It may also be a nervous habit -- like giggling and twirling one’s hair -- allowing the speaker to avoid engaging in any original, in-depth analysis of any given topic.
The predilection for clichés has little or nothing to do with wealth, education or class.
Several years ago, Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s daughter, mulled running for the U.S. Senate in New York. I had always admired her for her beauty, dignity and avoidance of the scandals that typically engulfed her notorious family -- but I had never before heard her speak.
When I watched her being interviewed on TV, I was startled and shocked by her inability to communicate. She had no poise, no presence, no charisma -- she seemed nervous, insecure and rambled, frequently using the egregious term “you know.”
Now, this is an adult lady who has enjoyed every possible privilege that life can bestow and she couldn’t talk. I think, in a broader context, the public’s excessive use of clichés reflects the overall decline of culture, the failures of the education system, and the oppressive domination of television in our lives.
The United States, the wealthiest, most advanced nation the world has ever seen, has a nearly 100 percent literacy rate -- but this vaunted figure is rather misleading. The overall quality of education in this country is rather poor -- the public school system, even in wealthy neighborhoods, produces students who remain functionally illiterate even after graduation.
Many of these “graduates” cannot think originally nor independently, and, worse, they are deeply influenced (almost to a paralytic degree) by mass-market media, the source of virtually all their ideas, opinions, beliefs, even the very words they utter.
How many times have you heard people reciting lines of dialogue from their favorite TV shows and films, substituting these words in lieu of real conversations in their daily lives?
The use of clichés is part and parcel of how mass media has hopelessly infiltrated and even perverted our very consciousness. Clichés require no thought, no effort and, of course, no creativity. Indeed, they are a form of verbal pollution.
When I was a mere lad, we had a neighbor who was an eccentric, charming elderly Irish lady devoted to the Catholic Church. She would frequently utter phrases like “Mother, Mary of God,” ”Holy Mother of sweet Jesus, “Saints, pray for us,” and various other references to her faith.
I suppose during her era, such expressions were also regarded as “clichés” and may have annoyed some people. I submit, however, that “Mother, Mary of God!” is far more meaningful and pleasant to the ear than such modern-day bon mots as “you know,” “like, whatever,” and “wow” -- uh, you know what I mean?