The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Cliché: An expression used so often (and so often out of context) that it has become hackneyed and has lost its original impact. Many clichés were once hailed as striking metaphors, only to be denigrated over time.

EXAMPLES: “Under the weather,” “don’t rock the boat,” “just what the doctor ordered,” and “have a nice day” are common clichés, as are the more recently popular “get a grip,” “don’t go there,” and “show me the money!,” prominently featured in the movie Jerry Maguire (1996). In 2013, in The New Republic, Judith Shulevitz identified “disruptive” as “the most pernicious cliché of our time,” particularly as applied to public education, with calls for “disruptive innovation” led by “change agents” and “transformational leaders.”

The first line of Robert Burns’s poem “A Red, Red Rose” (1796), “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,” has become clichéd with overuse and the passage of time. Neil Young’s song “Love Is a Rose” (1975) puts a twist on the “love is a rose” cliché by advising listeners not to pick it!

In Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner (2003), Amir, the protagonist, observes: “A creative writing teacher at San Jose State used to say about clichés: ’Avoid them like the plague.’ Then he’d laugh at his own joke. The class laughed along with him, but I always thought clichés got a bum rap. Because, often, they’re dead-on.” Many writers of detective fiction and mystery fiction readily embrace clichés; in his fast-paced mystery novel Summit Lake (2016), Charlie Donlea writes: “Somewhere in this quaint tourist town, a girl had been murdered. It seemed too nice a place for such a thing to happen.”