Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cliché: early bird catches the worm, the

Meaning: assertiveness brings success (example)

Rewrite 1: first to the table gets the bacon
Rewrite 2: first across the finish line wins the medal
Rewrite 3: quickest to the buzzer wins the round
Rewrite 4: early to rise catches the first sun rays
Rewrite 5: best bargains go to the first inside the door
Rewrite 6: earlier worm escapes the beak

Comments: There are lots of ways to pose this cliché. The last rewrite is taking the opposite tactic to the original, a play on words really. Have some fun with it - turn a bird's tree on its branches.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Cliché: elephant in the room, the

Meaning: uncomfortable topic or presence that doesn't quite fit (example 1, example 2)

Rewrite 1: whale in the pool
Rewrite 2: rhino in the yard
Rewrite 3: yacht in the pond
Rewrite 4: refrigerator in the closet
Rewrite 5: donkey at the tea party

Comments: While the original cliché is about something big and cumbersome that doesn't get discussed, I've gone for something that's simply big and doesn't fit all the way to something that's perhaps an opposite and uncomfortable.

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Humorous language from our past
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cliché: dirt cheap

Meaning: as inexpensive as plain old dirt (definition)

Rewrite 1: cheap as muck
Rewrite 2: dandelion cheap
Rewrite 3: crab-grass cheap
Rewrite 4: five-and-dime cheap
Rewrite 5: second-hand store cheap
Rewrite 6: greasy-spoon cheap

Comments: It's hard to be cheaper than ordinary dirt, so in that sense the original idiom is probably the most demonstrable of the point. However, there is lots of territory to explore on inexpensive or of less value. There is, of course, the potential to go too far.

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Writing or speaking unconventionally
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cliché: everything (it all) comes out in the wash

Meaning: no permanent damage (example1, example 2)

Rewrite 1: everything washes out with soap and water
Rewrite 2: nothing can resist the wash-spin-rinse-spin cycle
Rewrite 3: no stain remains forever
Rewrite 4: grease a little elbow power will undo
Rewrite 5: a good wash undoes all stains
Rewrite 6: throw it in with the rest of your soiled laundry and let's make you clean

Comments: I've pretty much remained with the original washday motif. Another interpretation of the idiom that strikes me - and which originally guided me when I first saw this cliché - was that it meant nothing is hidden in the laundry, all your clothes with all their stains come out on laundry day. How might you write for that?

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Cliché: diamond in the rough, a

Meaning: someone lacking grace or refinement or with unpolished talent (example 1, example 2)

Rewrite 1: unbeveled diamond, an
Rewrite 2: unpolished stone, an
Rewrite 3: unvarnished oak
Rewrite 4: unchiseled granite
Rewrite 5: unsculpted marble
Rewrite 6: unrefined cotton

Comments: I went much further with this recasting than I thought I initially could. I'll bet there's even more you could accomplish.

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The art of rewriting
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cliché: death by a thousand cuts

Meaning: a slow and painful loss (example)

Rewrite 1: death by a thousand needles
Rewrite 2: death by shrapnel
Rewrite 3: death by medical drip
Rewrite 4: loss of a thousand souls
Rewrite 5: bleeding by a thousand leeches
Rewrite 6: blinking away of a night's stars

Comments: Wasn't that morbid! I moved from methods of death to senses of loss, which are common uses of this cliché. Now I need a stiff drink.

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The "bible" for aspiring writers
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cliché: doesn't have both oars in the water

Meaning: Not with it (example)

Rewrite 1: rowing short an oar
Rewrite 2: steering with a rudder at both ends
Rewrite 3: one boat short an oar
Rewrite 4: in a canoe with no paddles
Rewrite 5: driving a car with three flats

Comments: This is less about boats and oars than it is about being unbalanced, but I couldn't resist some of these stranger variations on the original theme.

Give me a shout on Twitter: @a_copywriter

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cliché: like a broken record

Meaning: repeating the same thing over and over (example 1, example 2)

For: My good friend and colleague @CindyDroog (Say "Hi!" on Twitter)

Rewrite 1: like a campaign talking point
Rewrite 2: like a cheap TV ad run
Rewrite 3: like a keyboard stuck on "crap!"
Rewrite 4: like a Bill Murray Groundhog Day
Rewrite 5: like a broken app
Rewrite 6: like a corrupted file (or avi, wav, CD)
Rewrite 7: like a fragged disk

Comments: I've covered two issues here: Rewrites 1 through 4 for the original sense of the cliché and rewrites 5 through 7 which are ways to upgrade the idiom (although not necessarily the idea) for the changes in technology. 

If you're troubled by a cliché that I haven't slayed yet, I consider requests. Put it in a comment on this blog, or send me a tweet: @a_copywriter and I'll do my best! (Please check my "Alphabetic Listing" above first.)

Just for the experience of it
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Monday, April 12, 2010

Cliché: dead as a doornail

meaning: lifeless or useless like a nail used in a door (example 1, example 2, example 3)

Rewrite 1: dead as a coffin nail
Rewrite 2: lifeless as a wood screw
Rewrite 3: dead as a deep winter's night
Rewrite 4: dead as a double shot in a bullseye
Rewrite 5: dead as a confederate dollar
Rewrite 6: dead as a tooth on the dentist's floor
Rewrite 7: dead as a Martian dune
Rewrite 8: dead as a basketball after the buzzer

Comments: In the first couple of rewrites I tried to stick with the heart of the cliché. Then I tried to provide some uses for "dead" beyond the strict meaning of death - and there are many! How many ways can you recast this classic cliché knowing how many more ways you can use the word "dead"?

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Working with more similes
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Similes Dictionary
Elyse Sommer (Hardcover - Apr 1988)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cliché: the cat's whiskers

Meaning: defining good feature about something (example)

Rewrite 1: the dog's spots
Rewrite 2: the bird's song
Rewrite 3: the lion's mane
Rewrite 4: the dude's 'tude
Rewrite 5: the boa's hug

Comments: Another version defines this cliché as meaning superiority, so that's another possible rewrite or recasting opportunity.

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Using idioms to express yourself
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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Cliché: can't squeeze blood out of a turnip

Meaning: You can't get something from a thing that doesn't have it (example)

Rewrite 1: can't squeeze orange juice out of an apple
Rewrite 2: can't squeeze milk out of barn wood
Rewrite 3: can't make a stack of nickels out of a pile of nails
Rewrite 4: can't tap maple syrup from an oak stump
Rewrite 5: can't tap the stream of a bottomless well

Comments: This cliché is usually said of trying to get money or value from someone who is broke or without resources; however, it is also said of trying to tap other resources that don't exist or make something of another thing that doesn't make sense. I've attempted to address all those senses.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Cliché: (let's) face it

Meaning: confront the facts or the truth (example)

For: my good friend @maniactive (say "Hi!" on Twitter)

Rewrite 1: go nose-to-nose with the facts
Rewrite 2: get one-on-one with the truth
Rewrite 3: stare at the offending news
Rewrite 4: look the ugly monkey in the eye

Comment: "Face it" is usually an emotional response to exasperation or frustration or an in-your-face retort to baiting or taunting. At worst, it's given when we haven't a lot of time to spend defending our position or helping someone rationalize their disbelief. At best, it's provided when options are few. Often, it's become a habit-response like "ya know" or "so" at the beginning of a response. Adding "let's" at the front seems to be less confrontational, as an invitation to face the facts.

Although you can try some of these rewrites, if you're bothered by the habitual nature of using "face it" as a response, a better course might be to first wean yourself from it by substituting other similar phrases, like "Look,..." or "Face facts,..." or the more colloquial, "see the light" or "reality check!" Try rotating use among them. You'll become more aware of saying these things and it will be work trying to change. Over time, stop using each of the substitutes until you no longer use any of them. If you catch yourself saying, "Face it," immediately correct yourself, even if mentally. 

The other option for habitual use is to stop without adjusting (cold turkey, another cliché). I used to catch myself beginning a sentence with "Uh..." and I stopped myself by mentally catching myself and replaying the situation over in my head and later practicing what I said without the verbal lapse. You can do this in this situation, too. Practice giving answers without saying, "Face it" at the beginning.

I hope this helps!

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Cliché: big as life

Meaning: large, on a grand scale (example)

Rewrite 1: big as the genetic code
Rewrite 2: big as the biosphere
Rewrite 3: big as the sky and the ground it covers
Rewrite 4: large as the Amazon basin
Rewrite 5: as encompassing as the Yellowstone caldera
Rewrite 6: as grandiose as the Grand Canyon

Comment: To say something is "big as life" (or large as life) is to nearly complete the metaphor. It's hard to find equals to something that already states the case for size or completeness. Therefore, you go for ideas that still get across an immensity of size and scope, depending on the size and scope of the subject. It can be done.

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Learn your way around figures of speech
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Friday, April 02, 2010

Cliché: bee in her bonnet

Meaning: angry or upset (example)

Rewrite 1: bee in her bouffant
Rewrite 2: squirrel in her skirt
Rewrite 3: hive in the attic
Rewrite 4: rats in the trash can 

Comment: Think of vexing situations involving nature and you have an opportunity for a recast. I started close to the cliché and moved away from it, staying in the theme. Also, I found one other interpretation of the idiom: an obsessive idea, which I didn't address in the rewrite.

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Help with idioms
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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Cliché: April Fools Day

Meaning: a day of playing pranks on the unsuspecting

Rewrite 1: April D-oh! Day
Rewrite 2: April Palm to Your Forehead Day
Rewrite 3: April Prank a Poor Soul Day
Rewrite 4: April People with Too Much Free Time on Their Hands Day
Rewrite 5: April People Who Aren't Half as Smart as They Think They Are Day

Comment: The term probably isn't much of a cliché, but the concept is. I personally hate the day as a waste of time, although there are some fairly genius and harmless pranks responsibly pulled. I offer this rewrite as an homage to them. The rest of you -- get a life! ;-)

Catch me on Twitter (but don't prank me!): @a_copywriter