It’s a doggy dog world

The first rule of clichés is: Don’t use them.

The second rule of clichés is: If you are going ignore Rule 1, at least get your clichés right.

In the past month I came across a claim that two people in the news “are cut from the same mold.” Another writer noted “a pattern that men have been using since time immortal.” Then a politician at a public event extolled the local fire department as being “at the top of the notch.”

Let’s straighten them out in order.

  • Two items can be cut from the same cloth, or they can be cast from the same mold, but you don’t cut items from a mold. You might have to cut the mold away, if the casting is stuck, but then you wouldn’t be able to use the mold again to cast the second item.
  • If an activity started so long ago that there’s no memory of the beginning, it’s called “time immemorial.” If something is immortal, on the other hand, it will go on forever. You don’t refer to the future when describing something from the past.
  • You can either climb to the top notch or to the top of your profession, but I’m not sure it’s even possible to sit at the top of a notch.

Using a cliché is bad enough. It creates the impression that you don’t have the time, skill or inclination to come up with your own words. You are grabbing a readymade bundle off the shelf. It makes me doubt that you are going to show me any original thinking if I read on.

But garbling a cliché tells me that you don’t really know what you are saying.

When you find yourself reaching for a cliché, stop and think of what the cliché actually means. If you can’t quite figure it out, check to make sure that you have the right bundle of words in the first place

Maybe you’ve already grasped the dilemma here. Once you have gone to that much trouble, you are already most of the way toward coming up with something original.

You might as well go back to Rule 1.




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