Friday, September 30, 2005

Cliché: turn over a new leaf

(Submitted a day early for Sat., Oct. 1, 2005)

Meaning: start new
Rewrite 1: start with a fresh set of (whatever fits: clothes, rules, numbers)
Rewrite 2: start with a clean sheet of paper
Rewrite 3: bail the dirty water and start fresh
Rewrite 4: cover the old color and start with new paint

Comment: Be careful with this one. It was a little harder cliché to rewrite. You want to imply a new start, not just a new set of things – with whatever you’re dealing at the time.

Cliché: making a mountain out of a mole hill

(Submitted on Fri., Sept. 30, 2005)

Meaning: to make way too much out of something
Rewrite 1: making a nuke out of a firecracker
Rewrite 2: making a hawk out of a sparrow
Rewrite 3: looking for gold but finding lead
Rewrite 4: going W.M.D.* on me
Comment: There seem to be plenty of comparisons from which to draw, either as a direct parody of the original or going in a different direction.

*W.M.D.: weapons of mass destruction, a reference to massive weapons suspected in Iraq but never found, used as a reason to go to war with Iraq in 2003.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Cliché: by the skin of my teeth

Meaning: by the thinnest of margins
Rewrite 1: by the skin on a rooster’s beak
Rewrite 2: by the cheeks on a flea’s behind

Rewrite 3: by the tear on a peacock's tail
Rewrite 4: by the width of a hair

Comment: In rewrite 2, you can argue whether a
flea has a "behind," but it's the size that counts in this metaphor. Meanwhile, rewrite 3 may be somewhat obscure. Can you figure it out? If you're having trouble, think of what might appear on a peacock's tail. In rewriting clichés, you want quick clarity -- you don't want your reader to spend a lot of time trying to figure it out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Cliché: as easy as falling off a log

Meaning: extremely easy
Rewrite 1: as easy as falling out of a tree
Rewrite 2: as simple as walking down a step
Rewrite 3: as effortless as flippingts2b a switch

(Gleaned from an unintended repeat of this cliché from 12.20.05:)
Rewrite 4: as easy as tripping2 down a step
Rewrite 5: as easy as stepping2a through a doorway
Rewrite 6: like taking a sip through a straw2
Rewrite 7: like wiping the crumbs off your face

Comment: I tried to recreate the exact sense of the simile, then twist it just enough to give it new meaning by looking at synonyms for “easy.” Some others to consider are trouble-free, straight-forward, uncomplicated, undemanding, and painless* (example: as undemanding as a sleeping baby).

*This list is from Microsoft Word's thesaurus. For a more thorough list, try Merriam-Webster's Thesaurus.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Cliché: like a bull in a china shop

Meaning: a destructive force
Rewrite 1: like an elephant in a
Chihuly exhibit
Rewrite 2: like a tank in a toy store
Rewrite 3: like a termite in a lumber yard

Comment: In trying to rewrite this classic cliché, many very interesting images formed in my mind that were really more humorous than instructive. For instance, I tried to envision something big in a very small space – like an elephant in a phone booth. Or a hippo dogpaddling in a fish tank. While these were fun to imagine, they didn’t really match the original idea. In rewriting these on your own, be careful not to drift so far from the original idea that your new expression becomes a joke rather than a metaphor.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Cliché: I need that like I need a whole in the head.

Meaning: I really don't need that
Rewrite 1: I need that like I need a flat tire
Rewrite 2: I need that like I need the dengue fever
Rewrite 3: That's about as much use as a flash flood in a Fizzies' factory
Rewrite 4: Sure, I need that -- right after I get a lobotomy
Comment: There are a lot of ways to say, "Believe me, I don't need that!" but the emphasis in this case is on sarcasm. So here are but a few ideas for recasting this classic cliché.

Capitalization of dengue fever -- there is no consistency across several major newspapers, dictionaries, and medical sources. So I went with the simpler, as used in The New York Times.
What's a Fizzies? -- a candy that errupts into fizzes (thus the name) when dropped into water or other liquid. Imagine the mess with thousands of these during a flash flood while in production!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Cliché: walking on eggshells

Meaning: walking gingerly, softly, or quietly
Rewrite 1: walking on glass ornaments
Rewrite 2: walking with the sound of a whisper
Rewrite 3: moving with the noise of a kitten's whisker
Rewrite 4: go softly like the drop of an autumn leaf
Comment: There aren't many delicate surfaces to walk on, so you might think of simply recasting the metaphor or simile.

Research Tip: Need a quick list of clichés? Try Clichés: Over 1500 Phrases Explored and Explained by Betty Kirkpatrick. Or google the word "cliches", where you'll find a list of 6,900,000* Internet sources including the Cliché Finder.

*6,900,000 as of 9.25.05, approx. 3:15 pm ET

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Cliché: a long row to hoe

Meaning: a big task to finish
Rewrite 1: a deep leak to bail
Rewrite 2: a long hill to climb
Comment: You want to preserve the sense of difficulty, yet keep it in the same simple terms as the original, depending on your audience. For instance, if you're writing for mathematicians you might prefer something more like "a long number to crunch" or for surgeons something more like "a deep laceration to stitch."

Writing Tip: It isn't always necessary to be clever. Often, saying something clear and straightforward is far more effective. In these cases, it's best to invoke the KISS principle: Keep It Short and Simple.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Cliché: as snug as a bug in a rug

Meaning: extremely comfortable
Rewrite 1: as cozy as a cat on a cushion
Rewrite 2: as delighted as a dozing dog
Comment: You want to keep the flow and fun rhythm of the original, in this case using
alliteration. You also want to provide that same sense of warmth and comfort.

Writing Tip: It's so easy to resort to a cliché, we sometimes slip into it without thinking. When you write a comparison or a metaphor, read your words out loud. Do they sound eerily familiar? Did the words come to you easily? It could be you're using a cliché, intentionally or not. If so, check a book on clichés or do a search on the Internet. You might be surprised at how many clichés there are and how many you aren't even aware of!