Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Literary pablum…

by Miriam

This NPR piece about aphorisms and proverbs, made me think of the acquaintance who frequently utters the phrase “a fine tooth and comb” (as in “I went over that document with a fine tooth and comb”) to my endless chagrin and secret delight, or my four-year-old whose impressive vocabulary sometimes stalls on him and who ends up asking for a “drum ball” before an important announcement instead of a “drum roll.” But it also reminds me how much I hate the tired, meaningless cliches that authors occasionally resort to out of laziness or haste.

Do you ever find yourself reading something and being so put off by the author’s use of throwaway platitudes that you put the book down and turn on the tv? Or is it just me?


  1. A former co-worker thought the phrase for ending something quickly was "nip it in the butt."

    And yes, relying on tired phrases is a sure way to get me to stop reading.

  2. Honestly, they don't bother me as long as they aren't overdone. People use them in real life all the time, so why not allow them in books?

  3. I think cliches in writing are more appropriate in dialogue unless the books in first person. But yeah, an overabundance of cliches makes me want to put the book down, slide it out of the room, and watch tv or surf the internet.

  4. I don't mind one or two in a novel, as long as they're in dialog. The thing I hate is the "rolling of the eyes." Can't authors come up with something else to have their characters do to express themselves while engaged in a conversation. (These are usually novice authors I see using this lazy way out, but their manuscripts still make it to the publishers. Why can't mine? Oh, maybe I just need to send it out there more--could help).

  5. Seeing those cliches in print is a timely reminder of just how important it is to avoid them like the plague in my in my own writing whenever humanly possible. So I'm eternally grateful to others when they use them.

    In other words, yes in the extreme it does get tiresome. Unless you're trying to win a Bulwer-Lytton then by all means, knock yourself out!

    I think that those sorts of cliches can have great comedic value though if you wield them carefully and respect them as the dangerous objects they are. I try to save them for those moments and turn them into something that makes people laugh instead of cringe.

    When my daughter was two she used to say "oily cow!" and we're still fond of using it on the rare occasion. I loved 'drum bull'.

  6. Seeing a cliche or two isn't nearly as bad to me as seeing an obvious error that didn't get caught. As we rely more and more upon the electronic word, I frequently see more "their/there" and "then/than" switcheroos. I wish more people realized that spellcheck isn't always a friend! Most recently I saw someone had posted their "Summery" and that was enough to make me stop reading immediately. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the agents!

    Rebecca T. Little

  7. We're on the same page, Miriam! (JUST KIDDING)

  8. bitter and twisted19/5/10 8:27 PM

    My favorite
    "Who made you judge Judy and executioner."
    Homer Simpson.

  9. I knew someone who was convinced that it was a "mute point" because "moot" wasn't a word.

  10. Cliches drive me wild -- unless I'm the one who's offending, in which case I never see them until it's too late.

    I have a Ukrainian student who describes overly optimistic people as 'seeing the pink glasses'. I love the way non-native English speakers can freshen up our language.

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