The Problem with Cliches
Cliches, set phrases, catch-phrases, buzzwords, and idioms – merely graze the surface. Alain de Botton in “How Proust Can Change Your Life” * gives an insightful explanation on cliches:
(Writer friend asks Marcel Proust for comments on his new manuscript and Proust replies)
… There are some big landscapes in your novel,’ explained Proust, treading delicately, ‘but at times one would like them to be painted with more originality. It’s quite true that the sky is on fire at sunset, but it’s said too often, and the moon that shines discreetly is a trifle dull.
We may ask why Proust objected to phrases that had been used too often. After all, doesn’t the moon shine discreetly? Don’t sunsets look as if they were on fire? Aren’t cliches just good ideas that have proved rightly popular?
It’s about YOUR experience, not someone else’s
The problem with cliches is not that they contain false ideas, but rather that they are superficial articulations of very good ones. The sun is often on fire at sunset and the moon discreet, but if we keep saying this every time we encounter a sun or a moon, we will end believing that this is the last rather than the first word to be said on this subject. Cliches are detrimental in so far as they merely graze the surface of our true experience.
And this matters because the way we speak is ultimately linked to the way we feel. How we describe the world must at some level reflect how we first experience it.
Creativity can be a painful process.
Next time you see a beautiful sunset, take the time, (which can be painfully long) to create words that describe YOUR unique experience of that sunset.
True art is reducing a universal truth down to its essence.
How can you describe that sunset so that anyone who has seen a beautiful sunset, will nod their heads and say:
YES, I know what you mean! I experienced that too.
Communicating is connecting with people using our shared experiences.
Tags: Speechwriting Tips
*Excerpt from Alain de Botton: “How Proust can Change Your Life”; Picador 1997; page 97.
Dyane Neiman is the Moving Speaker: www.moving-speaker.com. She helps business professionals at all levels, who want to enjoy speaking in public, in English. She always encourages people to find their own unique voice in this rather loud world. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
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