Friday, December 30, 2005

Cliché: one man's garbage is another man's treasure

Meaning: value is in the eye of the beholder. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: one man’s
garbage is another man’s four-star meal
Rewrite 2: one man’s
treasure is another man’s trash
Rewrite 3: what is junk to you may be treasure to me
Rewrite 4: you see
junk I see jonque (“dressed-up” version of junk)
Rewrite 5: junk by any other name is treasure by another

Comment 1: You may be familiar with this cliché using "trash" or "junk" instead of "garbage."

Comment 2 : There are lots of ways to position both “garbage” and “treasure.” There are also lots of ways to twist and turn the phrase to praise either trash or treasure.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
This is Broken – Advertising Cliches: “This Is Broken is a project to make companies more aware of their customer experience. Submit your own entry.”

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cliché: just the tip of the iceberg

(entered for 12.29.05)

Meaning: only the most visible part of a much bigger whole.
Use examples.
Rewrite 1: just a jewel of a buried treasure
Rewrite 2: only a
penny of a pocketful of change
Rewrite 3: just the street entrance of a 40-
storynoun3 building
Rewrite 4: but the
flower of a long-rooted dandelion

Comment: I first established a larger whole then decribed on a smaller part; it helps to stick with something most people would recognize rather than something more obscure, although if you’re addressing a special audience you can most certainly pick an object perhaps known mostly or only to them.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Colonial Clichés in a German Zoo? “Many zoos put on special exhibits in order to attract visitors. Most also attract little notice much less controversy. But one zoo in southern Germany is…”

Cliché: go against the grain

(entered for 12.28.05)

Meaning: do something opposite to the established or accepted way. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: row against the tide
Rewrite 2: steer against the curve
Rewrite 3: walk against the flow
Rewrite 4: talk over the conversation

Comment: Think of going against something that everyone does automatically, like walking up the downstairs or driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Great Movie Clichés: 'Auteur Movie Clichés'. “'Broadway Movie Musical Clichés'. 'Television Drama Cliches'”

Cliché: ants in his pants

(entered for 12.27.05)

Meaning: excited or energized. Use examples.
Rewrite 1:
statica3 in his shorts
Rewrite 2: an
itch on his spine
Rewrite 3: a scorpion in his shoe
Rewrite 4: a spider dangling in front of his face

Comment: I thought of things that might make me jump around excitedly or make me get up quickly and run away.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Leadership & Practical Theology: “Tom Payne's guide to the words that reviewers and publishers love too much…”

Monday, December 26, 2005

Cliché: you could have knocked me over with a feather

Meaning: extremely weak. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: you could have knocked me over with a leaf
Rewrite 2: so beat, a feather could have knocked me out
Rewrite 3: such a
wuss I was afraid a dandelion seed would push me over
Rewrite 4: so weak, I couldn’t stand straight on a windless day
Comment: This is really a metaphor about weakness, whether it’s physical or mental.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Web Design Tips, “The purpose of this web site is to help out new web developers by going over some of the tips of how to put together a top-quality, professional web site.”

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Cliché: season’s greetings

Meaning: best wishes for the holiday. More on the greeting.
Rewrite 1: wishing you the most wonderful time of the year
Rewrite 2: wishing you many cheerful holiday moments
Rewrite 3: here's hoping your holiday is full of cherished memories
Rewrite 4: may your holiday stocking be full of wonderful surprises
Rewrite 5: may all that you desire come true this joyous holiday

Comment: More to the point, however, it may be more sincere to say "Merry Christmas!", "Happy Hanukah!", or "Happy Kwanzaa!" if that's what you really mean. And so, I wish you the merriest of Christmases, the most happy of Hanukahs, and the most splendid of Kwanzaas.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I googled “holiday clichés”:

Poynter Online – Forums, holiday clichés.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Cliché: rotten to the core

Meaning: bad throughout. Use examples.
Rewrite 1:
rotten4 through to the center
Rewrite 2: bad, bad, really bad
Rewrite 3: a
core made of rotted heart
Rewrite 4: so full of
corruptionn1b there's no room for a soul

Comment: Just think of Dr. Seuss's "
Grinch" (the nasty green fellow who stole Christmas) before his conversion. Which reminds me! Happy holidays to all: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa!

More reading about clichés
What I found when I googled “clichés”:

Some past and future clichés regarding GNU/Linux: “Some past and future clichés regarding (GNU/) LINUX. Originally printed in Mute Magazine.”

Friday, December 23, 2005

Cliché: firing on all cylinders

Meaning: maximum performance. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: using all 10
Rewrite 2: counting on all 10 toes
Rewrite 3: using both sides of the brain
Rewrite 4: playing all
88 keys

Comment: Metaphors with numbers enhance the essence of this statement.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Sport clichés press: “As featured in Sports Illustrated, ESPN, USA Today, Fox & Friends.”

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cliché: everything’s coming up roses

(entered 11:46 pm ET, 12.22.05; updated 04.02.06)

Meaning: things are turning out wonderfully. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: everything’s coming up
Rewrite 2: we’re seeing white linensn2 and no spotsn2c
Rewrite 3: I plant weeds and what I get are petunias
Rewrite 4: all I get are sunny days and starry nights

Rewrite 5: my garden is nothing but roses
Rewrite 6: everything’s coming up lilies
Rewrite 7: nothing but sunshine and warm breezes
Rewrite 8: it’s all coming in hundred-dollar bills

Comment: There are lots of opportunities to paint pretty, spotless images. This is about trouble-free life, so think about the perfect day and what you’d like to see on that day.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
SparkNotes: Ultimate Style: Cliches: “It’s easy to fill your writing with clichés.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Cliché: the lights are on but there's nobody home

Meaning: someone who isn’t very smart. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: the lights are
running on a weak generator3
Rewrite 2: the door is open but it
leads nowhere
Rewrite 3: the draperies are open but no light’s coming in through the window
Rewrite 4: the faucet is open but no water’s coming out

Comment: A parallel rewrite is difficult to do without sounding pretentious, but there are a number of other ways to say “this light’s working on low wattage.”

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Dan Schneider on Redeeming Clichés: “…a 10 line poem with at least 8½ seeming clichés…”

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cliché: the whole enchilada (new entry)

(re-entered at 1:39 pm ET on 12.23.05)

Meaning: the whole package. Multiple clichés for a similar idea.
Rewrite 1: the
doughnut and the doughnut hole (also donut)
Rewrite 2: bed,
box spring, and mattress
Rewrite 3: the whole car, from the tires to the rag top*
Rewrite 4: the whole car, from headlight to taillight

*Scroll down to rag-top; also applies to American and Canadian English.

Comment: I had to replace my original here because, without intending to, I had repeated a cliché. My apologies to my readers. (I discovered the repeat when I tried to organize the list of clichés alphabetically.)

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Clichés and journalism: “Quickchés: New source of tired writing.”

Monday, December 19, 2005

Cliché: fall head over heels

Meaning: go all goo-goo over something. Mentions and use examples.
Rewrite 1:
danceiv2a around like doing a pirouette in free-fall3
Rewrite 2: do
cartwheels on a tightrope
Rewrite 3:
frolicvi like a frog on caffeine
Rewrite 4: make like
Goofy in love

Comment: Just think about your friends on their first date and how strangely they acted. In using “Goofy” in rewrite 4, I wanted to impart a vision of the Disney character who acts, well, goofy, even more so when he’s in love.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
A fist full of Euros: National Clichés:”…how many of these national touchstones I’ve been completely ignorant about…”

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Cliché: barking up the wrong tree

Meaning: talking to the wrong person; making the wrong choice. Origins.
Rewrite 1: planting a
weed where you want a flower
Rewrite 2: picking a
rotten apple
Rewrite 3: taking home an
empty bag
Rewrite 4:
ringingiv3 your own doorbell
Rewrite 5: singing in the
wrong key

Comment: This rewrite is fun and easy – just think of a creative way of saying, “You’re making a bad choice.”

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés” [NOTE: I’m already on page 15 of the results pages!]:
Not so grand Cliché List: “Modern (sometimes painfully modern) jokes/clichés/conventions of society…”

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Cliché: in two shakes of a lamb's tail

Meaning: very quickly. Further on meaning.
Rewrite 1: in two heartbeats
Rewrite 2: quicker than you can shake a lamb’s tail
Rewrite 3: quicker than you can say, “lamb’s tail”
Rewrite 4: faster than you can say, “Get it.”

Comment: This one was a little harder that I thought it would be to rewrite. Perhaps because you want it to be short but some things need more language to explain or set up the comparison.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
The 15 most annoying IT-speak clichés: “The 15 most annoying IT-speak clichés, buzzwords ever used…”

Friday, December 16, 2005

Cliché: hit pay dirt

Meaning: reach a valued goal. Definition and mentions.
Rewrite 1:
striketv16a a gold vein6
Rewrite 2:
mint silver
Rewrite 3:
deliveriv1 coin
Rewrite 4:
take downtv3 a piñata full of diamonds
Rewrite 5:
hittv6c CEO pay
Rewrite 6:
mineiv1a the mother load1

Comment: I overdid myself, but in doing so I hope I demonstrated that there are many ways to say the same thing.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind: “Gimmicks, like cliches, reveal a lack of craft or imagination, or sometimes downright,” by a writer of crime fiction.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Cliché: at the drop of a hat

Meaning: immediately or easily. Origins and mentions.
Rewrite 1: at the
drop of a name
Rewrite 2: at the
toss of a coin
Rewrite 3: as sudden as a
Rewrite 4: faster than the
snapis3a of a whip
Rewrite 5: easier than licking a

Comment: What else is quick or easy, so quick or easy it will come immediately to mind?

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
John August: “a ton of useful information about screenwriting.” How to avoid clichés in story writing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cliché: when pigs fly

Meaning: when impossible things happen. Meaning and uses.
Rewrite 1: when trees dance (can you imagine them in
Rewrite 2: when cats
Rewrite 3: when horses skip rope (they can jump but can they skip?)
Rewrite 4: when penguins fly
Rewrite 5: when cars
parallel-park themselves

Comment: It sounds awkward when you add many words, as in rewrites 3 and 5, so simpler statements may work better. However, I encourage more imaginative statements, more impossible combinations.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Cheats, Cliches, Cartoons, Anime…: “…many ways to cut corners in creating animation.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cliché: toot your own horn

(entered for 12.13.05)

Meaning: make a big deal about something that is yours.
Use examples.
Rewrite 1:
beep your own horn7a or 7b
Rewrite 2:
ring2* your own bell
Rewrite 3:
gush over your own accomplishments
Rewrite 4: write your own
performance review**
Rewrite 5: make
much ado*** about your own nothing

Comment: Not to throw accolades my own way, but I really like rewrite 5, which is a play on one of Shakespeare’s great comedies. The further we can get away from the original the better.

Notes: *Scroll down to the second use of ring. **Go to the “p’s” then scroll about a quarter of the way down the page to find “performance review.” ***See “
Shakespeare’s Words”, a Shakespeare glossary, by David Crystal, for more meaning on The Bard’s words and phrases.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Sundance Creativity: “Poetic Cliches: …clichés are rampant in poetry today, particularly among new or younger poets.”

Cliché: swim against the tide

(entered for 12.12.05; writer's apology: technical difficulties interfered with posting earlier.)

Meaning: oppose popular thought or trend.
Rewrite 1: swim out as the
tiden2 moves in
Rewrite 2: move against the flow
Rewrite 3:
blowis2 against the gale
Rewrite 4:
cuttv1 across the grainn6

Comment: I thought this one would be easier to recast, but it was something like climbing up a limp rope.

More reading about clichés:
What I found when I googled “clichés”:
Flickr: Monterey Aquarium Clichés: “…pictures from the [Monterey] aquarium should only be posted if they have a very high cliché potential.”

Cliché: not the ghost of a chance

(entered for 12.11.05; writer's apology: technical difficulties interfered with posting earlier)

Meaning: not the slimmest possibility.
Origins and mentions.
Rewrite 1: not a
demon’s hope of heaven
Rewrite 2: not a
snow cone’s chance in the ocean
Rewrite 3: not an
iceberg’s chance in the Sahara
Rewrite 4: a bat has a better chance in a blinding snowstorm

Comment: Most similarities to ghosts are difficult to parse for a rewrite, so I tended to other, more substantial lost causes.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Chester Novello: “Clichés is a prelude, fugue and blues for jazz sextet and has undergone two bouts of revision since its première by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in October 2001 (conducted by Pierre-André Valade).”

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Cliché: like night and day

Meaning: contrast or comparison through opposites3.
Rewrite 1: like black and white
Rewrite 2: like good and evil
Rewrite 3: like
shadow and saturation4
Rewrite 4: like war and peace
Rewrite 5: like God and devil

Comment: Do you suppose we soon will run out of opposites? At least meaningful ones?

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Australian World Map (Macquarie Dictionary): “It takes courage to write about clichés, not least because of the fear of turning out more clichés. But here goes.”

Friday, December 09, 2005

Cliché: knee-high to a grasshopper

Meaning: something very small, short, or young. Use examples. Origins.
Rewrite 1: knee-high to a
Rewrite 2: no taller than a gnome’s knees
Rewrite 3: no higher than
putting green grass
Rewrite 4: no bigger than a
barrel full of fleas
Rewrite 5: he’d grown no bigger than a chipmunk’s left thumb

Comment: I’ve always wanted to use rewrite 2, it’s so

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Clichés Exercise: “To illustrate how dull and predictable clichés are, see how easy it is to fill in the missing words in the last half of the examples below.”

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Cliché: the 800-pound gorilla

Meaning: something of great (exaggerated) weight or size. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: the 500-pound
Rewrite 2: the 6-ton birthday cake
Rewrite 3: the eight-story bungalow
Rewrite 4: a gorilla with enough muscle to lift a tree house

Comment: I can’t resist telling a couple of jokes here: What does a 500-pound canary say? “Here kitty-kitty…” Where does an 800-pound cat sleep? Anywhere he wants to. What don’t you tell a centipede to hurry it up? Shake a leg. (You’d want it to shake all of its legs.) You can have a lot of fun with this one, and I encourage you to do so.

Note: "800-pound" (and similar constructions) is often written out as "eight-hundred pound."

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
CISAB Animal Proverbs and Cliches: Animal Proverbs and Clichés from the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior, Indiana University, USA.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Cliché: born with a silver spoon in his mouth

Meaning: born into wealth2 or great luck. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: born with a
silver dollar under his tongue
Rewrite 2: conceived in a mansion and delivered in a
Rewrite 3: gave birth to a bouncing baby
Rewrite 4: never had to worry from the moment he came out of the

Comment: The third rewrite is stretching the metaphor in that it doesn’t talk about the person being born but rather to the mother giving birth. However, it still works to convey the life of privilege the baby is born into.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Clichés: The Sleeping Puppies. “These viruses infect songs, television, movies, and commercials, not to mention everyday conversations.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cliché: you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink

Meaning: you can help someone find something but you can’t make him take advantage of it. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: you can take a horse to the hay, but you can’t make him eat it
Rewrite 2: you can lead a cat to the
litter box, but you can’t make her use it
Rewrite 3: even a dog on a
leash doesn’t always want to walk
Rewrite 4: you can make some people leaders but they still want to follow

Comment: Rewriting this cliché can open a slew of different possibilities, and they don’t all have to follow the logical course. Rewrites 3 and 4 are good examples.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Business phrases, jargon and business clichés, “Said what is an online database of quotes and quotations, covering politics, celebrities, models, famous quotations and topical articles, competitions.”

Monday, December 05, 2005

Cliché: something to sink your teeth into

Meaning: something big and “meaty2” to get a hold of. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: something to
grab a hold of
Rewrite 2: something you can set a trap onto
Rewrite 3: that one’s got some
meat3 to it
Rewrite 4: that’s got the quality of a good thick steak

Comment: On the one hand, you want to associate it with something hardy to eat. On the other, you want to move over to something of substantial quality.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Business Buylines, an “extensive collection of advertising clichés, mottos and slogans may help get you out of a creative slump!”

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cliché: play with the big boys (or girls)

Meaning: move up to bigger or better things. Usage examples.
Rewrite 1: play with the big
Rewrite 2: sit at the adult table
Rewrite 3: work with the
Rewrite 4: get a job with real

Comment: This one can easily be tied to specific jobs or professions.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
Nerd clichés, “a sad page from”

Cliché: don’t reinvent the wheel

(entered for 12.03.05)

Meaning: don’t remake something so simple and so successful.
Usage examples.
Rewrite 1: don’t
squaretv1 the circle
Rewrite 2: don’t reinvent the
Rewrite 3: you can only replace a wheel with another wheel
Rewrite 4: a wheel is a wheel is a wheel; to redesign it is
Rewrite 5: a “better” window is still a window

Comment: It’s easy to get
sidetracked by this rewrite. Keep it simple … and don’t reinvent the wheel.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I googled “clichés”:
Not-so-grand List of Overused Fantasy Cliches, “a special subset of cliches I like to call the Van Helsing Rules”.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cliché: I could whip you with one arm tied behind my back.

Meaning: I can beat you even with disadvantages. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: I could whip you even with my arm in a
Rewrite 2: I could whip you while
hopping on one leg.
Rewrite 3: I could whip you with both arms tied behind my back.
Rewrite 4: you couldn’t beat me if I had my back turned toward to you.

Comment: This is something most often recited by children, so you can afford to be extravagant with your claims, even a bit adventurous.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled “clichés”:
• In
Cliches in Action Scenes, “Author Network offers a number of helpful articles on the business of writing - Clichés in Action Scenes by Linda Adams.”

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Cliché: got off on the wrong foot

Meaning: got started badly. Use examples.
Rewrite 1: got off on somebody else's foot
Rewrite 2: put my worst foot forward
Rewrite 3: restart on the right foot
Rewrite 4: point me to the better foot
Rewrite 5: Right foot but wrong hand still gave me a bad start

Comment: Not much variety here, but you can get the idea across without going too far astray of the original metaphor.

More reading about clichés
What I found when I
googled "clichés":
Common film music clichés, "A lighthearted look at some of the clichés used in film music and sometimes classical music too."