Cliches

Written by on February 7, 2013 in On Writing
Ancient Bristlecone Pine literally thousands of years old. Cliche? I think not.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine literally thousands of years old. Cliche? I think not.

The older I get the more cliche I have become. I guess I never realized that all those cliches that have caused an involuntary grimace have only endured because they are too true to fall out of use. I didn’t know that with age comes wisdom (I hope) and wisdom doesn’t care about cleverness or a smart turn of a phrase. Wisdom knows truth when it is spoken and responds to that truth no matter how run down or worn out it may be. I hear myself actually using cliches in conversation. For example, just the other day I said, in all earnestness, “My, how time doth fly.” Okay, I didn’t say doth, but you get my point. I could have waxed eloquent about the passage of time, carefully avoiding cliches like sharp rocks on a sandy beach but the phrase “my, how time flies,” is simply better. I imagine for a moment how the speaker or author must have felt when uttering that phrase for the first time. To compare something as evasive and intangible as passing time to flying must have felt hitting a vein of gold in a mine.

Yet we frown on the use of cliches, we strike it shamefacedly from our writing or we roll our eyes when others use them but there was a time when someone imagined that phrase in an attempt to adequately express the inexpressible. They must have smiled in victory at the perfection of it and then watched as the words became suddenly animated with their own life. Of course, there is price to pay for longevity. Phrases that once thrummed with intrigue and ingenuity become wooden and klutzy with age.

The new can never stay new for long, no matter how much we may want it to. Many things fall away into disrepute and disuse. Great ideas or fine words can crumble under the weight of years until they are no more than dust blowing about and completely forgotten. But a few things endure, a few things have just the right ingredients to keep them going year after year and century into century. And who can say what gives one phrase longevity and another, equally true phrase, a quick and painless death?

I turned 40 years old today and I can’t help but wonder about cliches. That I am pondering age and the passage of time on my 40th birthday is in itself a sort of a cliche and makes me smile even as I write it. I am cliche at 40. My kids think I am old, my mother knows I am not, but I have the feeling of wearing out, tired, with a good panoramic view of the past now visible behind me and suddenly seeing how little there is left in front of me. What once was an endless horizon of possibility has become a fixed path leading straight to a grave. Okay, maybe that’s a little pessimistic but the fact that I can even envision the end of life, that the future is not some fantastic blur of events to come, is a little sobering. Much of the future I once dreamed about has become solid and unchanging events of the past.

That is not say I am unhappy about getting older and having all the rich life experience that comes with age. I have found each decade to be more fulfilling than anything I could have dreamed up and I look forward with eagerness to however many decades are left for me to enjoy. It’s just that I spent all of my twenties and at least some of my thirties huffing and puffing on the mountain of life, climbing upward and only considering the rock in front of me or the bramble that caught my sleeve, never once considering the distance I was putting behind me. It is remarkable really-Time. The way it marches on to the beat of silent drums whether you are straining to hear them or not. Cliches are inheritances from those who have come before us. They serve as our connection with the past and will no doubt be handed to future speakers and writers.

Today, I celebrate the cliche. To celebrate those phrases and ideas that seem to have immortality pinned to the ground, giving out daily allowances. Immortality concedes because the good cliches, the really, really good ones, deserve to last.

Don’t despair, I will be on the lookout in the future that my own writing does not become riddled with them but today I give myself permission to use them freely (as I am sure you have noticed) and in whatever abundance I find them I will celebrate their endurance. I may still cringe when I hear someone try to pass off a cliche as something ever so original but for today the cliche has the seat of honor, right alongside me.

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  1. Dan says:

    Toughest sell ever and still converted me.
    Brilliant!

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