Languages › English as a Second Language Popular Cliches Explained for ESL Students Share Flipboard Email Print Hanneke Vollbehr/Getty Images English as a Second Language Vocabulary Basic Conversations for English Language Learners Pronunciation & Conversation Writing Skills Reading Comprehension Grammar Business English Resources for Teachers By Kenneth Beare English as a Second Language (ESL) Expert TESOL Diploma, Trinity College London M.A., Music Performance, Cologne University of Music B.A., Vocal Performance, Eastman School of Music Kenneth Beare is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and course developer with over three decades of teaching experience. our editorial process Kenneth Beare Updated February 19, 2019 A cliche is a common phrase that has been overused. In general, cliches are to be avoided. In reality, they are not avoided - that's why they are cliches! Understanding popular cliches is especially important for English learners because they provide a deeper understanding of set phrases - or 'chunks' of language. You might hear movie stars or politicians using cliches. They're phrases everybody understands. 10 Popular Cliches The writing on the wall = Something that is about to happen, something that is obviousCan't you see the writing on the wall! You need to get out of that business.To pull an all-nighter = To study or work all nightWe had to pull an all-nighter to get the work finished on time.Pearls of wisdom = Wise words or adviceI'm not really interested in his pearls of wisdom. He lived in a different period.Too much of a good thing = Generally used when saying that's impossible to be too happy, or luckyEnjoy it! You can't have too much of a good thing.Fit as a fiddle = To be ready and ableI'm fit as a fiddle. Let's do this thing!Curiosity killed the cat = Don't be too inquisitive, it can be dangerous!Remember curiosity killed the cat. You should just forget about it.Don't do as I do, do as I say. = Used when someone points out that you are being hypocritical (doing one thing while insisting that others do that thing differently)Stop talking back! Don't do as I do, do as I say!Let sleeping dogs lie = Don't look into (investigate) something that was troublesome in the past, but in which people are not currently interestedI'd let sleeping dogs lie and not re-open the investigation into the crime.A cat has nine lives = Someone might be having problems now, but there are many chances to do well or succeedHis career reminds that a cat has nine lives!Moment of truth = The moment in which something important will be shown or decidedIt's the moment of truth. Either we'll get the contract or we won't. Where Can I Find Cliches? These chunks of language known as cliches are found everywhere: in letters, in films, in articles, in conversation. However, cliches are most often used in conversation. Should I Use Cliches? A good rule of thumb for English learners is to understand a variety of popular cliches, but not necessarily use them actively. Many times the use of a cliche signals fluency, but often cliches are considered inappropriate or unoriginal. On the other hand, if a native speaker uses a cliche you will understand! The Difference Between an Idiom and a Cliche An idiom is a phrase that means something else than the literal words. Idioms always have figurative, not literal meanings. Literal = Meaning exactly what the words sayFigurative = Having a different meaning than what the words say Two Idioms To get under someone's skin = To bother someoneShe's getting under my skin these days!No spring chicken = Not youngTom's no spring chicken. He's almost 70! Two Cliches A cliche is a phase which is considered overused (used too often) which can be literal or figurative in meaning. Here are some examples: The good old days / literal = In the past when things were betterI remember my years at college. Yes, those were the good old days.Tip of the iceberg / figurative = Only the beginning, or just a small percentageThe problems we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg.