The Telegraph is carrying a piece, At the end of the day, you’ve given 110 per cent, which mocks clichés – and implicitly, those who use them. The piece contains ten or so winning entries in a competition to cram the most cliches into a short text.
Interestingly, the word “cliché” doesn’t appear in the piece – they use “infuriating phrase” instead. Maybe there’s a subtle difference there.
It is mildly amusing, though all the cleverness and jollity soon becomes a bit tiresome.
Not so long ago, I would have read the piece with the attitude that one as reader is presumed to have – a kind of smug superiority. Of course *I* wouldn’t use these clichés – only the dull, the vulgar, the crass, the stupid would rely on such banal and overworked turns of phrase.
However I feel a little different now. Having been doing far more “business communication” – writing, and especially conversing – than I ever used to do, I find myself relying on clichés more than ever before. Is this because my brain is atrophying the longer I spend away from the intellectual realms of philosophy and cognitive science? Perhaps.
But I think there might be something else at work. Communication is only in part a matter of sending information, contained in the meaning of one’s words, to another person. It is also about establishing a kind of rapport – conversing with them rather than talking to them. In that “conversing with”, clichés are very useful. They are standard moves from a common repertoire, allowing conversants to synchronize their thoughts and attitudes. Sure, instead of saying “we’ll be giving it 110%” you could say something like “we’ll be working like untenured academics” but the very originality of such a phrase is likely to throw some sand in the conversational gears.
There is a useful analogy with that universal business cliché, the standard handshake. Such a dull way of greeting somebody! Why not, instead, try shaking their hand side-to-side, or with one’s fingers clenched, or with a wet hand, or… or hold their arm, stroke their hair, touch their nose… Try any of these more imaginative alternatives, and you’ll instantly create the perception that you are at the very least a bit odd. You’ll seriously impair your chances of a successful business relationship. People want to know that they’ll be able to “play the business game” with you, by standard rules, not your creative and unpredictable rules. Shaking hands in a more or less normal way is just an opening signal that you’re interested to see the game go well.
So give clichés a break. There’s something to be said for them.