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Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Avoid Clichés Like The Plague

I have a beef with clichés.

And yes. That's one, right there.

Little verbal crutches, that’s what they are, words and phrases that we use to try to convince others that we’re really communicating, when in fact we’re just taking up time.

“Cold enough for ya?”

Honestly, I just don’t have the stomach for this kind of chatter, especially if it truly is cold enough for me. If we just happen to be standing waiting for the bus, well, sometimes, I just don’t want to talk. It’s nothing personal. I wake up slowly and have the early-morning voice of an amphibian in need of a drink. If it’s terribly early on a cold damp morning – it’s okay to just stand there. A smile is good. A nod is kinda nice, too. But we don’t need to speak.

But still, I hear you. I’ve been asked a question; and somewhere in me, I can’t help but take it at face value. I actually have to think about it. Is it cold enough for me? Hmm. Yes. It is certainly cold, but I think I could handle colder.

How about you? Is it cold enough for you?

I know I sound cranky about it, but really, I just wonder why we bother. These automatic responses we’ve developed so that we don’t have to really pay attention? We don’t even hear the words as they leave our lips.

My father was not a believer in the cliché. He said it was just laziness. I remember, particularly in junior high, that he made a point of calling out clichés and other “word tricks”, as he put it.

But now that I think of it, I realize that clichés are not just verbal…

Randy and I were both in 9th grade. He’d come around and work on bikes with my brother Kevin. Randy had a limited vocabulary primarily consisting of “yeah, right”, “oh, man” or “cool”. I mean, it was pretty much a toss-up which one of those five words he’d say because there didn’t seem to be any pattern to how he used them. Odds were good, however, that you wouldn’t get too much more out of him than that. He wasn’t mean or disrespectful; he just seemed to be high all the time. And when he did say something that was not comprised of any of those five words, he spoke entirely in clichés. His favorite radio show “friggin’ rocks”, his favorite subject in school was “lunch”, and the car he was going to get when he turned 16 was going to “kick ass”.

This fascinated my Dad – not the part about him being stoned, but the part about him seemingly able to communicate only in words and ideas that had been prepackaged for him.

Dad asked me about it.

“You ever notice that Randy only really says a handful of words?”

“Yeah. Oh, man.”

Dad smiled. “Are you being funny?”


Dad frowned at me in a thinking sort of way. “But he does, doesn’t he?” He shook his head. “I just don’t get it.”

A week or so later, Randy and Kevin were in the back yard. Bikes were upside down. Tools were out. Attempts were being made at fixing something or other.

“Randy!” My dad yells out the kitchen window. “You want to stay for dinner?”

“Yeah!” Randy yells back.

“Yeah, what?” my dad yells. He winks at me. He is playing a game with Randy, trying to get him to say another word, that word properly being “please”.

“Yeah, cool!”

“Groovy!” Dad yells back.

And that’s how it usually went.

We moved from there not long afterward and lost contact with Randy. Many years later, I got a letter from him. He was in prison in New Jersey for racketeering, would be out in just 23 more months and what would I do if I suddenly had access to 275,000 dollars? Would I be willing to meet with a guy?

Nah. I wasn’t willing to meet with no guy.

Randy wrote back that I would always be his angel and that his love for me was like "a ship that past by in the night".

I thought about that for days.

I wonder if Randy is still relying on clichés?


Symdaddy said...

I'm a morning-talker Pearl!

I get out of bed in the morning and I'm 'Mr. Happy' cos I know it really, really pi$$es people off and, as you prob'ly know, I just lurrrrrrrv pi$$ing people off ... in a nice way, of course.

Now, just where is it that you wait for your bus?

Simply Suthern said...

I agree that cliches are over used. I have prolly used all the ones that you didnt so they didnt go to waste. In the mornings I guess we feel an obligation to speak and since our brains aint awake yet we go for the "Default" settings like "Good Mawning" or "How Ya Doin". I spose it's an attempt at being courteous. It's worked for my first 50 something yrs I spose it will work for the last few.

Every field of work prolly has their own. In mine we do alot of reverse engineering. One of my faves that makes the boss cringe is "Plagerism, The best Idea I ever came up with".

Oilfield Trash said...

Why do I feel like I am hearing those two young women from "Fargo" speaking? lol

Pearl said...

I do not sound like I'm from Fargo!!!!


I do agree with the "Good Morning" and the casual "Hey" in the a.m., but every now and then I come across someone who actually wants to TALK at the bus stop. The sun won't be up for another hour, lady! Cut me some slack!

Fragrant Liar said...

I'm happy as a clam in the morning, Pearl. ;-)

ladyfi said...

I agree with you in part... cliches and standard phrases are the oil of our social life, but it's a shame if our conversations stop there...

Oilfield Trash said...

I am sure you don't sound that way Pearl, but what you said “Cold enough for ya?” made me think of those 2 chicks and the woman cop from that movie.

And I ain't dissing the movie as that is one of my favorite movies.

Pearl said...


It's true. "Cold enough for ya" is a staple greeting for the Upper Midwest. :-D

Copyboy said...

I hear ya, but I'm a copywriter. I make my living using cliches. And that's all I'll say about that. haha :) BTW...I lived in upstate NY for 4 years. It was always cold enough for us.

furiousBall said...

my least favorite one... "It Is What It Is."

Really? because I was totally thinking it was something else, but you're telling me that it is actually what it is. Brilliant, thanks Einstein. Totally clears it up for me.

Douglas said...

My nomination for the Trash Heap of Cliches and Pointless maunderings is "At the end of the day."

My second nomination is "stick a fork in it."

Janis said...

I'm with you. I don't like to function before 10 a.m. Because it's sort of a society requirement, I try to avoid eye contact until coffee is acquired and keep my face buried in either a book or a computer screen.

That said, once I am among the living I have picked up the annoying habit of saying, "How's it going?" as I pass people. A stupid question, really, because I really don't want to know.

Elizabeth said...

I have had my current job for three years. The same mail carrier has been coming in to deliver the mail five days a week for all three of those years. He says one of three bad cliches every day. It drives me so crazy that I've started to leave my desk and hide in the break room when I see him coming so I don't have to pretend I find his canned jokes amusing anymore.

Louisiana Belle said...

"I wake up slowly and have the early-morning voice of an amphibian in need of a drink."

Thank you, I finally have a description for my morning voice. Nice. :)

Mr London Street said...

Interesting alternative version of your post back in July (don't think we're not paying attention!)... deliberate variation on a theme? And what's all this about a chapbook then?

Sweet Cheeks said...

Cliches were designed to alert us to the presence of zombies.

Zombies are total chatter boxes in the morning and can't seem to remember what cliches to use in small talk (probably because they can't stop drooling over what your 'adopt a word a day' brain tastes like.)

Yep...that lady from the bus stop was a real zombie, Pearly Girly. Good thing you made it out of there alive!

WrathofDawn said...

Thank God, Mr. London Street. I thought I'd fallen backwards through the space/time continuum. Could happen. Not that it isn't a story that bears repeating, mind.

I share the amphibian morning voice and, if I am awoken by the phone ringing, have to take it for a test drive before I try to answer. Otherwise, my hello sounds like... " ".

Yeah. Nuthin' comes out at all. Which would make some people very happy most of the time.

arnyke said...

nice i like your post!
Following you bro!

Pearl said...

Dang it. I've been caught!

Yes. The first telling was quite a while ago. This is a bit of a re-worked re-post. I was at a funeral yesterday and didn't have time to write so I cheated!

And taking your voice for a test drive? Perfect, as I do the same thing and wish I'd thought of describing it as " ". That's absolutely perfect.

Might explain why I like writing!

p.s. Don't anyone feel badly about the funeral. My Aunt Marge passed away this past Friday; and while she will be missed, she would be pleased to know how many people flew in to say good-bye and the re-connections made in her name.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

That's an interesting turn of events for Randy. It just shows where cliche speak could land a person. I best be careful. xo

Eva Gallant said...

Whoa....good thing you moved away from Randy!

Grant said...

You might like Burn After Reading. The language oddities in it are funny. Brad Pitt's character in particular is very inarticulate and uses the word "shit" in place of "stuff" or other words he can't imagine. "There's financial shit and shit on this disc."

Pearl said...

Oh, and Mr. London, are you familiar with the chapbook? Picture that you've gone to a public reading, perhaps poetry. Afterward, the poet sells you a little booklet of his work, most likely out of the truck of his car (it's between the spare tire and the case of bottled water he keeps saying he'll bring into the house).

What he's selling you? Probably a chapbook. Printed and possibly illustrated. The poor man's paperback. :-)

Bambam said...

I reckon clichés like "Cold enough for ya?" are just ice-breakers (booo....) for uncomfortable silences between strangers. It makes it more tolerable to stand waiting for a bus, or in an elevator, with someone you don't know...

Here's my pet peeve.... every fking Friday someone has to say "TGIF!!!"

Jocelyn said...

I want to type more and attempt something clever, but I can't stop putting my head on the table every time I think of the words "the ship that passed by in the night."


Roy said...

I hate "did you bring this [insert weather condition here] with you?" I just can't seem to come up with a reasonable response. When I was a kid, after getting a gift, I came to dread the next question: "How do you like it?"

How is a third grader supposed to reply to that? "I like it immensely." Or "I like it good." Even as a third grader I realized there was no answer that didn't sound dumb. I now know the grown ups were looking for "Oh wo-oowwww!!!! Thanks!!!" I think. I never said that to my kid.

Bob said...

That was like...totally cool, and stuff.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

Yes, and remember, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity", the summer equivalent of "Cold enough for ya?"

lakeviewer said...

Keep on trucking there, Pearl.

Casey Freeland said...

If you read a cliche in a book does it drive you up the wall or just chill you to the bone?

Seriously though, what if you're reading a book and the cliche comes from a character's internal thoughts? Is that the writer being lazy or is the writer demonstrating that the character thinks in cliches?

It's something I've thought about a lot lately, actually. A writer I enjoy seems to have become so crammed with cliches and I am so distracted by them that I can hardly follow the story.



De Campo said...

Personally, I'm more of an idiom type of guy.

Linda Myers said...

Please don't say anything to me before 10 a.m.

And never, ever, ever respond to a question or a statement of mine with "whatever".

Cheeseboy said...

This post friggen rocks. And I am not just saying that. It really does friggen rock hardcore.

If I ever see you on a cold morning, I promise to simply nod. If I say anything, it will because I have tendency to talk to myself.

Dawn said...

As the manager of a chain of small town liquor stores, I see the same pre-drunk faces every day. Every single damn day. But my favorite is, and always will be, the gentleman that responds to the standard "How are you?" with a very dry answer of " Not worth a shit, but thanks for asking". It is a testament to the fact that I have the sensibilities of a 12 year old boy that this makes me smile. Every single damn day. Thanks for this Pearl. This post will make it easier to get through the "Think it'll rain?" comments today. (It's pouring outside.)

SparkleFarkle said...

I have no gripes with cliches. (<--Hm. Sort of sounds like "I get no kick from champagne," except I wasn't singing and, heck, I actually do like champagne. LOL! Cliches, too.-->) In fact I'd take a million of them over having a bunch of loud mouths on cell phones circling me. I guess I still consider cliches human contact, and I like that in a person.

Gaston Studio said...

I'm with you on the morning thing Pearl; one reason I love email so much!

I've known a couple of kids like Randy in my youth and what I've found is that they usually "grow up" still speaking the same cliches. I often wondered how they ever passed English classes. I'm with your dad in that it's a lazy habit.

Ann Imig said...

Gotta admit, Pearl. When I first read "I hear you." I though "I hear ya"



Jhon Baker said...

I find talking with most people difficult and I usually have to pretend to be someone else to get through it. Most people think that I am a natural social person and this couldn't be further from the truth - as where my father never taught me about language, which I love, he did teach me about being an actor, which I do not. 'Actor' is a generous way of saying a social con man - only I con people by having them think that I want to be engaged with them at that moment. In terms of used language, my attempts at avoidance can stray to the near self-flagellation, I try to not even use word combinations I have heard that day or week or if I can think of it as coming from somewhere else. But I love to mix metaphors and normally throw in a little extra frisky for flavor.

Eric said...

Agree. In college when I didn't mind so much being a complete misanthrope I refused to waste words on pointless greetings... if someone said "How are you doing" without genuinely meaning it I would just nod. There was always a moment of expectation afterward on their part and then awkwardness.