All writers are probably familiar with William Safire’s tongue in cheek rules for writers. The last one goes like this:
Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague; seek viable alternatives.
However, I think they have their place. The most obvious is to put them into the dialog of a character you want to portray and, maybe, unoriginal, uneducated, even superstitious if he spouts old folklore things.
Where else can we use them? They’re shorthand for things that everyone instantly understands.
Here are some I think are useful:
As the crow flies
Chip off the old block
Flat as a pancake
(These examples are from http://www.clichelist.net/.)
Sure, you could figure out new and fresh ways to say all of these, but you might not come up with anything better and you might confuse your reader if you don’t hit the nail on the head, so to speak.
Of course, you shouldn’t fill your pages with them and use them out of laziness. I think there’s a fine line. The occasional completely apt cliché can work for you. Too many of them will work against you.
Part of my motivation in defending the maligned cliché is that I hate to throw away finely honed bits of language, wisdom, and lore.
I’d love to hear thoughts on this!
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