The Myles na Gopaleen Catechism of Cliché

'A unique compendium of all that is nauseating in contemporary writing'

Myles na Gopaleen
The Best of Myles by Flann O'Brien. (Dalkey Archive Press, 1999)

"A cliché," wrote Irish satirist Brian O'Nolan, "is a phrase that has become fossilized, its component words deprived of their intrinsic light and meaning by incessant usage. Thus it appears that clichés reflect somewhat the frequency of the same situations in life."

Clichés did appear in O'Nolan's own writing (which included five novels published under the pseudonym Flann O'Brien), but only when he was making fun of them.

From 1939 until his death in 1966, O'Nolan commanded a satiric weekly column for The Irish Times called "Cruiskeen Lawn." Under the pen name Myles na Gopaleen (sometimes na gCopaleen), he wrote fancifully in Irish, English, and Latin on matters related to life, literature, and language.

In several of those columns, O'Nolan presented "a unique compendium of all that is nauseating in contemporary writing." Here then, as evidence of the "murder" of his "beloved English language," are excerpts from the Myles na Gopaleen Catechism of Cliché.

  • Catechism of Cliché

    What is a bad thing worse than?

    What can one do with fierce resistance?
    Offer it.

    But if one puts fierce resistance, in what direction does one put it?

    In which hood is a person who expects money to fall out of the sky?
    Second child.

    If a thing is fraught, with what is it fraught?
    The gravest consequences.

    What does one sometimes have it on?
    The most unimpeachable authority.

    What is the only thing one can wax?

  • Yes, More of It

    What happens to blows at a council meeting?
    It looks as if they might be exchanged.

    What does pandemonium do?
    It breaks loose.

    Describe its subsequent dominion.
    It reigns.

    How are allegations dealt with?
    They are denied.

    Yes, but then you are weakening, Sir. Come now, how are they denied?

    What is the behaviour of a heated altercation?
    It follows.

    What happens to order?
    It is restored.

    Alternatively, in what does the meeting break up?

    What does the meeting do in disorder?
    Breaks up.

    In what direction does the meeting break in disorder?

    In what direction should I shut?

  • Dead English

    When things are few, what also are they?
    Far between.

    What are stocks of fuel doing when they are low?

    How low are they running?

    What does one do with a suggestion?
    One throws it out.

    For what does one throw a suggestion out?
    For what it may be worth.

    What else can be thrown out?
    A hint.

    In addition to hurling a hint on such lateral trajectory, what other not unviolent action can be taken with it?
    It can be dropped.

    What else is sometimes dropped?
    The subject.


Selections from "Cruiskeen Lawn" have been collected in The Best of Myles, published by Dalkey Archive Press (1999) in the US and by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2007) in the UK.