Cliches get a bad press, don’t they?
Boring as batshit.
Dull as ditchwater.
Familiarity breeds contempt (by the way, when I was younger, I always thought that was actually ‘familiarity breeds content’. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Your favourite paper, a cup of tea, a good old Jaffa Cake…that’s content in my book).
But the sad thing is that many of them are absolutely brilliant bits of imagery that could teach us a thing or two about verbal expression.
I just finished reading this article about the good points of cliches. It mentions fit as a fiddle. Now, when would you ever come up with that as a metaphor? Never. It’s too odd.
What about cool as a cucumber? Whoever invented that one must have gone round on a cloud of delight for years afterwards. It’s perfect. It makes no sense while simultaneously making all the sense in the world.
Easy as pie. How is pie easy? It’s not that easy to cook. It’s no easier to eat than, say, cake, or toast. When you remember there’s the other kind of ‘pi’, it’s not even easy to spell. And yet it works perfectly.
I guess these sayings are so familiar they’re just there without being there, kind of like oxygen.
All hell breaks loose? Brilliant.
Make a mountain out of a molehill? Fantastic.
Scraping the bottom of the barrel? Excellent.
When I wrote Economist lines I used to use cliche websites to start the thoughts off, and that’s where ‘What exactly is the benefit of the doubt?’ came from.
Making the familiar appear unfamiliar can be as useful as the other way round.