Grandma\’s Tales

October 28, 2006

Grammar 10 – If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a 100 times!

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 10:38 pm

What is a cliché, asked a young friend.

Look at it this way. If the Indian cricket team said, “We give 100% every time. We take one game at a time. We just go out and play our natural game. We are just happy to be here. We have our backs against the wall. It ain’t over till it’s over…,” you are likely to close your ears and scream, “Stop it! We’ve heard all that before!”

That’s it. A cliché is an idea, phrase or an expression that is overused. It is commonplace, familiar and makes you want to ‘clench your fists and grind your teeth; buy the guy a one-way ticket to hell; tell him to go fly a kite…’ ok, ok, stop shrieking!

A cliché is not just something that lots of people say; it’s something that lots of people say and it conveys some sort of idea or message.

How do we know a phrase ia a cliché? Take this test. If I said, “It’s a one-man ____,” would you be able to complete it? Easily. You’d shout “show” without raising your hand. This expression has a definite meaning, but you’ve heard it a million times. If I said, “This essay should be sent to the forensic lab”, you would never have guessed it. I didn’t till I wrote it just now.

Is it wrong to use clichés? No. Only boring. Some clichés are such good expressions that they are going to be around for a long time. Like this one: Any friend of yours is a friend of mine.

However, one guy said, “A cliché is an analogy (example) characterized by its overuse. It may be true (‘fat as a pig’), no longer true (‘work like a dog’) or difficult to understand (‘right as rain’), but it has been overused to the point that its sole function is to mark its user as a lazy thinker.”

Why not think of new ways to express your thoughts? Find new, modern, culturally apt examples to make your meaning clear. You’ve heard “It sells like hot cakes”. Hot cakes? Do you eat your cakes hot? Why don’t you say, “It sells like kaju barfi on Diwali eve”? Take an old expression and give it a twist, a new ending. Instead of “Laughter is the best medicine, try “Laughter may the best medicine but it is bitter when the joke is on you”. The idea is not to repeat what everyone says.

Here is a list of clichés about clichés:
Clichés: each of them makes something easier, but all of them together make things very complicated
No one owns clichés
Clichés are never new
Clichés sound better in a foreign language
A cliché just describes the feeling or the pretended feeling, it does not change it
There is truth in every cliché
Avoid cliches like the plague

Here is an exercise. Pick at least 10 familiar expressions from the passage. Many are proverbs, but they are clichés too!

Our English Teacher is called Robin

Our English teacher is called is Robin. After all, what’s in a name? He had learned that man cannot live by bread alone. He had married a woman who knew that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. He was fat.

Robin decided it was never too late to learn. He became an English teacher. He remembered his father’s comment: those who can, do; those who cannot, teach. Oh, he thought, there’s no fool like an old fool. He ignored his father, and took up ELT. He had heard that travel broadens the mind. He also found that it emptied the pocket. Never mind, he thought, the love of money is the root of all evil. After all, the best things in life are free! His inner voice said, name one! Robin responded with alacrity- health is better than wealth. Remember, you can’t take it with you when you die. The inner voice continued to torment him.- you haven’t any ‘it’ to take! All that glitters is not gold, Robin retorted. But you haven’t anything that glitters either, continued the voice. Robin didn’t rise to the bait this time.

Robin settled into a semi-comfortable rut. He tried his best- if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. He was a stickler for punctuality: Robin was the early bird that catches the worm. His approach was not shared by the class, in spite of his telling them that early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. Their attitude was: better late than never. Robin’s encouragement of ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ always fell on deaf ears. There are none so deaf as those who will not hear, he thought.

Robin detested noise. Speech classes were anathema to him. ‘Silence is Golden’ he would shout, followed by ‘do as I say, not as I do’. He then explained: a still tongue makes a wise head, while empty vessels make the most sound. ‘Remember’ he said, thinking of grammatical accuracy, ‘least said, soonest mended’. By way of encouragement, he added, ‘ask a silly question, you’ll get a silly answer’.

With group work, Robin was out of depth. He didn’t understand the methodology, though he admitted that there was more than one way to skin a cat. Still, he gave it a try. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. He agreed that practice makes perfect. But practice in what? His students seemed to have adopted the motto ‘ignorance is bliss’. He lectured them to make hay while the sun shines, and strike while the iron is hot. As soon as he left the room, they put this into practice. It was a matter of when the cat is away, the mice will play.

Robin returned to uproar. This increased when he explained that he had forgotten to mark his homework. It never rains but pours, he thought. ‘I know’ he said, ‘take your essays and mark each other’s’. In the ensuing silence he started to congratulate himself. But his inner voice cautioned- don’t count your chickens before they are hatched. But think of the advantage, countered Robin, many hands make light work. Ah, but too many cooks spoil the broth, replied the voice.

The students finished their task, and called out the marks they had given each other. They were all the same! Seeing is believing, Robin muttered. But, after a while, he gave up. It was a matter of once bitten twice shy. He knew: if you want a thing done well, do it yourself. Robin’s students, on the other hand, were complimenting each other- great minds think alike!

Dismissing them, Robin admonished himself- look before you leap next time. Then looking at his watch, he noticed how time flies. He rushed along to the staff room, where birds of a feather flock together. He had difficulty in agreeing with his colleagues that the pen is mightier than the sword. The attitude of spare the rod and spoil the child was beginning to gain favour with him. But his inner voice had the final word. Robin, it advised, know thyself.

What do you think the title of this blog is?

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10 Comments »

  1. what’s in a name?
    the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
    the best things in life are free!
    Remember, you can’t take it with you when you die.
    Robin was the early bird that catches the worm.
    Their attitude was: better late than never.
    always fell on deaf ears.
    there was more than one way to skin a cat.
    too many cooks spoil the broth, replied the voice.
    Seeing is believing,
    once bitten twice shy.
    if you want a thing done well, do it yourself.
    great minds think alike!
    noticed how time flies.
    where birds of a feather flock together
    Robin, it advised, know thyself.

    Comment by pramoditha.k — October 29, 2006 @ 7:18 pm | Reply

  2. The cliches are:
    What’s in a name?
    Man cannot live by bread alone.
    The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
    Never too late to learn.
    Those who can do; those who cannot teach.
    No fool like an old fool.
    Love of money is the root of all evil.
    The best things in life are free.
    Health is better than wealth.
    You can’t take it with you when you die.
    All that glitters is not gold.
    rise to the bait.
    If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

    God!! There are far too many cliches in this for me to list anymore. How could you think of so many of them and fit them in one passage?

    Comment by bravi2 — October 29, 2006 @ 8:30 pm | Reply

  3. Hi Promodhita,
    Great! But do you think “replied the voice” and “Robin, it advised” are cliches? 🙂
    Are your questions answered here?

    Hi bravi2,
    Welcome to the blog. Getting a passage like this was so easy. What do you think a teacher’s training is for? We are good at setting tough question papers, aren’t we? 🙂
    Any way, full marks to you. I had asked for only 10, right?

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — October 29, 2006 @ 10:46 pm | Reply

  4. “Dear Everybody”??

    Another form of address very common in Corporate emails, but which makes me flinch every time, is

    “Dear All,”

    Grammatic, eh?

    Now this makes me wonder. Is ther ea word like “Grammatic?”

    What say grandma?

    Comment by Nitin — October 30, 2006 @ 10:26 am | Reply

  5. Hi Nitin,
    Good to see you here. Yeah, I flinch at “Dear All” too. There is an inherent contradiction in that expression. But be assured it’s grammatic. As in the “grammatic structure of a sentence”.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — October 30, 2006 @ 9:05 pm | Reply

  6. spare the rod and spoil the child

    Seeing is believing

    too many cooks spoil the broth

    ignorance is bliss

    when the cat is away, the mice will play

    practice makes perfect

    Silence is Golden

    do as I say, not as I do

    better late than never

    All that glitters is not gold

    Comment by Rajaram — November 3, 2006 @ 1:46 pm | Reply

  7. Hi Rajaram,
    There are quite a few, aren’t there?

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — November 3, 2006 @ 9:36 pm | Reply

  8. I wonder if they have a French word for cliché.

    Comment by Navaneethan Santhanam — August 5, 2007 @ 4:30 am | Reply

  9. Damn, ‘cliché’ should have been in quotes.

    Comment by Navaneethan Santhanam — August 5, 2007 @ 4:30 am | Reply

  10. Hi NS, the word “cliche” is of French origin. Here it is. [Origin: 1825–35; < F: stereotype plate, stencil, cliché, n. use of ptp. of clicher to make such a plate, said to be imitative of the sound of the metal pressed against the matrix]

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — August 5, 2007 @ 9:20 am | Reply


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