As a writer one of my worst enemies has to be the cliché. ‘All good things come to those who wait’, ‘blood is thicker than water’, ‘beauty is only skin deep’. It’s my job to make up my own which can be hard when I’m hardwired to trot out these phrases. I remember my mother’s examples. ‘Blue and green should never be seen’ – until the only clean clothes for me to wear was a blue dress with a green cardigan. Then she changed it to ‘blue and green; fit for a queen’. She was fooling no one. ‘Patience is a virtue’ was another. If I didn’t want to scream at her before she made this helpful comment, I certainly did afterwards.
And when I came running into the room at full speed, brimming with news to tell her she’d look up from sewing, where ‘a stitch in time saved nine’ or peeling potatoes where you can be sure ‘many cooks’ would not ‘be spoiling the broth’, and she’d say ‘you’re like a bull in a china shop’. This sounded awful. Bad enough to be me in china shop let alone a bull. I still have a vision of a china shop with Georgian bay windows and china on every available surface. A bull suddenly appears, walking upright and wearing his best suit. All he wants is to buy Mrs Bull a piece of objet d’arte. Tragic really.
The husband has a few sayings he over-uses regularly. The most annoying is when he suggests I ‘rustle up a (insert relevant term) salad/meal/picnic’. As if all I had to do was to rummage furtively in the salad crisper and ‘hey presto!’ a lovely big salad would appear. Whilst there is a certain amount of rummaging required, there’s also a lot of rinsing, chopping, slicing, grating and blanching going on.
Another phrase, he has now stopped using, is when a beautiful woman is being discussed, he will describe her as ‘looking like a model’. Vacuous? In need of a decent meal? Is this the best way to describe beauty? Should Shakespeare have used this instead of comparing a right looker to a summer’s day? Anyway he’s stopped saying it now, he knows ‘which side his bread is buttered’.
‘Cheap at half the price’. What does it mean? If you halved the price of course it would be cheap!
Some clichés have wonderful or terrible origins. There are a few theories to where ‘cats got your tongue’ came from. In the Middle East a punishment for liars was having their tongues ripped out and fed to the king’s cat. Or that being whipped with a cat-o-nine-tail was a conversation stopper for the victim. Another from the Middle Ages when it was believed that if you saw a witch her cat would steal control of your tongue so you couldn’t report the sighting.
‘Caught red-handed’ is used to describe someone who is interrupted in the process of wrong doing. It is thought originally to describe the blood of the victim on his/her murderer’s hands. Although there is a story of the Japanese putting the sap of poison ivy on their money so that any thief would break out in a nasty red rash.
‘To finish up’ I encourage you to ‘have a nice day’. And if you are a writer ‘it goes without saying’, when it comes to clichés to ‘avoid them like the plague’.