9/14/13, No. 80
The Society for Preserving Clichés. The mission of the Society for Preserving Clichés is to address the problem of under-used clichés. If banal expressions are not used often enough, they go out of existence. It is estimated that every 27 seconds, a cliché becomes extinct. This statistic means that, every year, we lose thousands of them. Our linguistic eco-system cannot sustain such loses. And once we reach the tipping point, we won’t have a lot to say. Every time we open our mouths, we’ll have to come up with something original. Our minds will have to work overtime. Using hackneyed sayings saves a great deal of time and effort.
Which clichés are we most interested in preserving? Here’s the beginning of the list, with an explanation accompanying each one:
This dog won’t hunt: A lot of dogs were never meant for hunting.
Take it to the next level: Mayor Alvin Brown is fond of this phrase. It dates back to the hippie psychedelic era of the sixties and to the San Francisco rock band Sly and the Family Stone. It means “I want to take you higher.” And higher. And higher. And higher. And then a little higher. Until you die from the overdose.
That’s how we roll: This idiom is very PC; it shows the speaker’s solidarity with the disability rights movement.
Bucket list: Coined as recently as 2007, this expression already has achieved cult cliché status. I don’t know about you, but there’s a hole in our bucket.
What stakeholders bring to the table: The answer should be obvious.
Wake-up call: The band Maroon 5 sings about a particularly memorable wake-up call:
Think outside the box: This is the ultimate stealth cliché. We are never more thinking inside a box than when we are using a well-worn cliché like ‘Think outside the box.’
At the tipping point: 15%? 20%? It depends on the quality of the service.
Pour fuel on the fire: Here’s footage of what this expression looks like in practice:
My bad: This is an Anglo-Saxon-Jute translation for the Latin saying Mea culpa.
Shelf life: Where can we find the expiration date for a cliché?
Barking up the wrong tree: It’s not always easy to know which tree is the right one.
It’s déjà vu all over again: This saying is like the film Groundhog Day, only there’s no Andie MacDowell, and Yogi Berra said it first.
Whole new ballgame: The phrase is like FDR’s “New Deal,” but without the poker reference. Maybe President Obama should adopt it for a slogan.
Jump start: This idiom usually is followed by “the economy.”
Step up to the plate: Too much sitting is killing us. This cliché is about a standing desk for diners.
Go with the flow: Unfortunately, a recent tsunami gave the saying a rather dark meaning:
Take the gloves off: Since this is a family Letter to the Editor, please leave ’em on.
Right off the bat: Outside of the baseball reference, this locution is rooted in a homophone: the IRS allows bat owners a tax deduction.
Drink the Kool-Aid: My ex-wife once said that somehow I’m the only person who ever drank the Kool-Aid and survived. And that’s why she was leaving.
Help them get back on their feet: Being a good Samaritan, I always tell people in wheelchairs I’m willing to help them get back on their feet.
It’s so [blank], it’s not even funny: Does this mean, I’m not allowed to laugh?
Get your ducks in a row: That way, they’re easier to shoot.
Deer in the headlights: This saying’s never been the same since Levi Johnston met Sarah Palin.
These expressions are like old shoes and comfort food. They release us from the demand to be original, specific, accurate, and precise in the words we choose.
The greatest threat we face today is the under-used cliché. We at the Society for Preserving Clichés dedicate ourselves to the noble cause of keeping banal expressions in circulation. With clichés in each and every sentence we speak, we’ll always have something to say to one another. Even if it’s the same thing. Repeated over. And over. And over. And over. And over. Again.