Merriam-Webster defines the word cliché as “a phrase or expression that has been used so often that it is no longer original or interesting.”
In my opinion, that’s a fairly harsh – and incomplete – definition. I believe words and phrases become cliché because they usually express popular thoughts or ideas. Most people, whether consciously or not, will echo the words of others if those words sound effective and support whatever points they may be trying to express.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so the cliché goes, and it is indeed a compliment for someone to use another’s words to enhance their own expressions. Clichés become clichés because people usually like them. They can be incredibly handy and they, euphemistically, speak the truth … most of the time.
I believe, when used properly and sparingly, clichés can be effective communications tools and can help accentuate key points. Clichés can form a point of common ground between the writer/speaker and the recipient of those words.
This being an election year, and with new polling data making news almost every day, I’ve heard multiple candidates tell their supporters, “The only poll that counts is the one the voters will complete on Election Day.”
Hackneyed as it may be, it is absolutely true and is being used as a rallying cry by candidates of all parties to get their constituents to the polls. As most pundits will tell you, turnout is key.
When time is limited for a candidate, a cliché might be a better alternative to delivering a message … and communicating so that thoughts are concise and easily understood is really what it’s all about, isn’t it?
That’s not to say I believe one should use clichés without limitation. No, far from it. Certainly overuse, be it of an individual phrase or a fusillade of different clichés, can be distracting and render written or spoken communications totally ineffective.
In other words, when using clichés, strike a balance between “never-ever” and “too much,” and you’ll always have something to write home about.
Chip Stewart is a senior vice president at Cookerly PR.