Cliches are like assholes, everyone thinks theirs has a silver lining, but they’re really just full of shit.
A while back while in a writing improvement phase a friend of mine gave me some excellent advice. Stop using clichés.
The reason clichés are undesired is because they don’t stimulate people the same way “regular language” does. I initially argued that clichés became so used precisely because they were so succinct and accurate, and that they were therefore useful tools.
His response was that they used to be good tools — the first few times they were used. But after the phrases are processed over and over by someone they cease to have any meaning. They become hollow. All the genius is sucked out of the saying by sheer repetition.
Think of your brain as a patch of fresh green grass, with the individual blades serving as sensors for new ideas. Each time the grass is tweaked by someone walking by or sitting in it, new connections are built in your brain. Now imagine that a tank rolls through (a very powerful image or idea). The blades lay down from the weight of the idea, which stimulates the emotions and spawns mental connections within the listener. The tank passes and the grass stands back up.
Well, clichés are like tanks that parked in your pasture. All the grass under the tank is dead. And when the tank comes again later to park in its familiar space, there are no longer any grass blades to tweak. As a result, there is no impact to the listener. It’s like it never happened. The connection fails.
So the solution is simple — say it another way. Instead of saying, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”, say “Most great things in life come from facing hard times.” Is it sexy? No. But it’s new. It’s something that requires mental processing.
That’s the key: the idea is to make the listener actively process what you’re saying and build new mental connections from your words. This can’t happen if your words aren’t even considered. Clichés are taken as dead chunks of nothingness, not as language. They aren’t even parsed for meaning; they are ignored.
If you want to be a successful communicator, don’t use them.