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What Is a Cliché? (with Examples)

A cliché is an overused and worn-out expression used to convey a popular thought or idea.
Formal Definition

A cliché is a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. (Oxford Dictionary)

Easy Examples of Clichés

  • The ball is in your court.
  • Think outside the box.
  • As useful as a lead balloon.
  • Every cloud has a silver lining.
cliche examples

Types of Cliches

There are various types of cliches. For example:

A proverb is a short, well-known saying that states a general truth or a piece of advice. For example:
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
  • A leopard cannot change its spots.
An idiom is commonly used expression whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of its word. For example:
  • I am over the moon.
  • You have a Sword of Damocles hanging over you.
  • I'll take any port in a storm.
Read more about idioms.

A catchphrase is a well-known term, especially one that is associated with a particular famous person. For example:
  • "Come on down!" (The Price Is Right)
  • "Yabba dabba doo!" (Fred Flintstone)
  • "You're fired!" (Donald Trump or Alan Sugar from The Apprentice)
A simile is a figure of speech which compares one thing with another to create an analogy. For example:
  • This is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.
  • He drinks like a fish.
Read more about similes.

A metaphor is a figure of speech which states one thing is another to create an analogy. For example:
  • That will put the final nail in the coffin.
  • I am banging my head against a brick wall here.
Read more about metaphors.

Why Should I Care about Clichés?

Here are two points related to clichés. I know they're contradictory, but hang in there...

(Point 1) Avoid clichés.

A cliché is a worn-out expression. It is one that has lost its effectiveness through overuse. Don't expect your readers to be impressed if you use a cliché, especially in creative writing because they will be reading your work to enjoy your powers of expression. This quotation by Salvador Dali neatly captures the risk of using a cliché:
  • The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot. (Spanish painter Salvador Dali)
Also, be aware that figurative language (especially clichés) in business writing can portray you as flippant. You don't have to use any creative-writing techniques in your business writing. They could be more damaging than beneficial, and metaphors and similes carry the most risk. But, there are benefits to be had – especially if the technique suits your business environment. You'll instinctively know your boundaries, and, if you don't, seek a second opinion before you press "Send" on any business correspondence featuring figurative language (especially a cliché).

Aside: When proofreading this entry, I felt an urge to swap the clichés for fresher ones because I disliked these ones so much. But, hey, that's the point!

(Point 2) Don't avoid clichés.

Yeah, I know. I wrote Point 1! But, that said, using a cliché can be an efficient way of making a point. For example, it's much easier to instruct your team "to go for the low-hanging fruit" rather than "to focus on the tasks that will achieve a timely result without expending significant resources."

Also, remember that not all proverbs, idioms, catchphrases, similes, and metaphors are clichés, and using figurative language (i.e., the use of words in an unusual or imaginative manner) can be an excellent way to deliver a message or tell a story.

Ready for the Test?
Here is a confirmatory test for this lesson.

This test can also be:
  • Edited (i.e., you can delete questions and play with the order of the questions).
  • Printed to create a handout.
  • Sent electronically to friends or students.

See Also

What is an idiom? What is a simile? What is an analogy? What is a metaphor? Glossary of grammatical terms