English is a rich, engaging and fascinating language. America’s melting pot contributed to its construction, usage and evolution. English makes it possible to express one’s self precisely and in varying shades of meaning without truncating our language with clichés and jargon.
A good dictionary definition of a cliché is a trite, stereotyped phrase or term that has lost its originality through overuse but nevertheless strains to express a popular thought or idea. Such phrases reduce communication to bromides and platitudes.
Whereas clichés are expressions that lend little if any substance to the meaning of a sentence, jargon is nonsensical, incoherent, meaningless talk except when used as a specialized language of a trade or profession.
Another lazy bit of verbal communication include idioms, those old fixed sentences used to attempt the expression of an idea but have no literal meaning. These expressions lend little to the significance of a sentence.
Clichés and jargon serve as rhetorical crutches strung throughout conversation. Speaker and listener alike are usually unaware of the mind-numbing effect of the uninspired verbiage as the conversation drones on.
There are many clichés in use and they tend to arise from force of habit. The habit, in turn, stems from laziness slopping over from our pop culture. The challenge of expressing a thought in one’s own words gives way to the cliché. Clichés tend to say little, but they sound good in the process. Complex issues, therefore, are reduced to rational-sounding phrases signifying nothing.
Clichés are a shorthand means of communication. They can mean a thousand things, or they can mean nothing. Inevitably, they serve as fillers occupying time and space in conversation. When severely abused, they can even serve as a substitute for good grammar.
When not otherwise justifying poor or lazy thinking, clichés in their more sinister form are a way of dismissing dissent or opposition.
Clichés may take on the form of butchered platitudes as in “A doctor a day keeps illness away.” Mixed clichés, like mixed metaphors, grate on the brain. They usually result from misunderstanding the meaning of the expression. You never want to “sign your own death knell.” You just might “get your dandruff up.” And, surely, violence is not “as American as apple pie.”
On the other hand, you could be “busy as a bee” while “working like a dog.”
Here are some common clichés with possible renderings.
“Moving forward...” Let’s not talk about it any more. Change the subject.
“Do the right thing..” Let’s do what I think is best.
“Send a message...” Why send a message? Just talk straight and say what needs to be said.
“On steroids...” Exaggerated, bigger than life. Obamacare is Medicare on steroids.
“Sweet!” A sugary expletive.
“It’s for the children...” A focus group-tested, nonsensical phrase usually uttered by politicians and bureaucrats. Not much in use since the legislated massive debt our kids will inherit became the latest form of child abuse.
“Foot in the door...” An initiation of something new, like takeover of health care, banking and auto industries.
“Empower...” A faux redistribution of ability.
“Going green...” How we’ll look and feel if the Environmental Protection Agency has its way.
“Carbon footprint...” Guilt smudges conveyed by radical environmentalists and politicians as they stomp on the private sector.
“You got it...” Thanks for embracing my point of view.
“Make a difference...” An inane filler-term. Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse-tung made a difference. Alternatively, doing nothing, as opposed to doing something, could also be construed as making a difference.
“Racist...” An overused banality loosely thrown about as an accusatory epithet designed to embarrass and silence opposition or shut down honest criticism.
“You know what I’m saying?...” Please, oh please, agree with me -- or else.
Clichéd rhetoric is a ragged attempt at verbal communication.
Listen carefully to conversations overheard. Better still, listen to the greatest perpetrators of all, the media pundits, and see how many clichés you can identify.