Cease Worrying And Learn To Love These nine Clichés

These is an excerpt from It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Mistreatment of Cliches [Oxford University Press, $24.95], an accumulation of frequently-used yet defensible clichés. According to author Orin Hagraves, inexcusable clichés are those that don’t accurately evoke the correct mood or tone. Or else, clichés can be useful in conjuring up an appropriate metaphors. When used properly, the 9 clichés below are totally acceptable.

the bed of roses

Writers who wish to go directly for the jugular will state the particular cliché in its full canonical form: “Life is not a bed of roses. ” Short of that, there are numerous variations on the bed of flowers theme, which is nearly always accompanied by a negation. The cliché is a minor offender and most often serves to help remind an audience that life does not usually support unusually optimistic expectations. After “life, ” the situation most likely to be characterized as un-rosebed-like is marriage.


“Acting is no bed of roses at the best of times, but those early years can be particularly dangerous. ”

“Marriage is not a bed of flowers, but is built on trust plus forgiveness. Nothing in life is a mattress of roses, but picnics are usually certainly very relaxing. ”


This cliché is most frequent in literature about computers — not surprisingly, since they are the items most likely to be distinguished by or promoted on the basis of various special features. All the bells and whistles accounts for more than a quarter from the cliché’s use and is often a sign that some disparagement is intended, the particular bells and whistles being by implication an unhealthy substitute for underlying substance.


“We get caught up within the bells and whistles of site-specific farming plus lose focus on the real objective: to increase net income for the stakeholders. ”
“With all the bells and whistles on this thing, it’s pretty hard to shun, whether it’s an upgrade or even a new system. ”
“Instead of the complete solution with all the bells and whistles, I opted for functionality. inch

a breath of fresh air

Like many clichés that consist of monosyllables, this one is frequently preferable to a more literal formulation from the idea it expresses. It becomes clichéish only when accompanied by the superfluous encouraged or much-needed; it is a rare breath of fresh air that does not have these types of attributes inherently.


“With the lack of new and revolutionary ideas in the field of nursing and affected person care, this book serves as a encouraged breath of fresh air. ”
“Coventry’s rise to the top division brought a breath of fresh air in order to English football. ”
“Given the dearth of real alternatives in today’s political surroundings, Negri’s perspective offers a much-needed breath of fresh air. ”

the calm before the storm

This cliché is most effective when accompanied by convincing characteriza- tions of both the calm and the storm, with some indication of the significance of the change of state. The first example does this. It is not necessary as for filler injections to simply describe a change of condition. Such changes are ordinary and for that reason are not good candidates for the particular characterization this phrase provides.


“The long reign of Antoninus Pious has been described as the calm before the storm, a storm that will plague the reign of their successor, Marcus Aurelius. ”
“There was complete quiet. It was unnerving, like the calm before the storm. It’s very much the calm before the storm now. The bikers are moments away from starting the particular climb up to Courchevel. ”

the fish out of water

The vivid image presented by this cliché makes it an appropriate metaphor for anyone or anything having difficulties against unsuitable or unsupportive environment, as in the second example. It is not the best choice when all that is meant is “anomaly. ” Fish out of water can be unusually popular in writing about the arts, perhaps reflecting the fact that fish out of water are engaging subjects (or are they clichés? ) for interpretation in film and fiction. Fish out of water is also unusually regular with a first-person subject, which may be due to speakers wishing to convey something more colorful about themselves than “out of place” or “alienated. ”


“But the film by itself is a fish out of water too, with modern euphemisms sprinkled with the dialogue and rock and roll playing as part of the musical score. ”
“Arjun is the classic innocent abroad, the fish out of water, making for moments both slapstick plus poignant. ”
“I felt somewhat like a fish out of water at Beaver Creek — a diehard Nordic skier in the center of one of the largest, swankiest alpine ski resorts in America. ”

a game changer

When clichés have offspring it’s reasonable in order to assume that the apple will not fall far from the tree, and so it really is here: game changer is certainly a bastard child of a whole new ball game. Though game changer originated in sports, where it still has a somewhat literal meaning, the cliché is found today most often in news and business journalism. It is useful when context makes clear exactly what figurative game is being affected, such as the third example.


“Out of twenty different technology firms, they are the only one that in my opinion was a video game changer. ”
“While Mr. Wu didn’t offer any thoughts on market share gains, he did say that Boot Camp potentially could be a substantial game changer. ”
“The Florida primary could very well be a game title changer in this topsy turvy Republican race for president. ”

hop, skip, and a jump

This cliché whimsically means a short distance (sometimes a figurative one) in sentences where a few construction using “near” or “not far” would give an acceptably equivalent meaning. It is evenly distributed throughout informal genres and journalism. Users’ preference for it suggests their inten- tion to make it clear they are dealing with their subject in a lighthearted method, and it is only jarring if previous context would make this incongruous.


“The real reason I love our own new place is that it is barely a hop, skip, or leap from one of New York’s best cupcake joints. ”
“Both scientists note that the military is turning to semi-autonomous weapons and cyber-assisted soldiers to fight battles. From there it’s only an intellectual hop, skip, and a jump to cyborgs. ”
“So, Jonathan, this actually means that we’re simply a hop, skip, and a jump away from knowing the name of the winning city. ”

a needle in a haystack

There’s no better or more vivid way of describing something that’s rare and difficult to find than this cliché, and it only falls flat when used since mere hyperbole, as in the first illustration. Many writers use it productively in order to good effect, as the other two examples show.

“Finding a home in Marin is like looking for a needle in the haystack. inch
“It’s impossible to track genes once they have been set totally free, it’s like a very small needle in an exceedingly big haystack. ”
“A VC’s biggest problem is filtering the incoming heap to find what they consider to be that needle within the haystack that’s worth funding. inch

face the music

Face the music has the benefit of concisely telescoping the more literal versions from the meaning, such as “take responsibility for” or “deal with the consequences. ” When it characterizes a situation that is expanded in surrounding text, as in the 2nd and third examples, it does not fully merit its appearance.


“Someone must face the music meant for such a brazen misuse of scarce public resources. ”
“Eventually, the company had to face the background music and today the FTC announced that it had settled with DirectRevenue. inch
“This morning, the particular world’s biggest military computer hacker Gary McKinnon is facing the background music in court. ”