What are Cliches?

Media Paparazzi
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What is a Cliche?

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 obvious

Can'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 night

We had to pull an all-nighter to get the work finished on time.

Pearls of wisdom = wise words or advice

I'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 lucky

Enjoy it! You can't have too much of a good thing.

Fit as a fiddle = to be ready and able

I'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 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 interested

I'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 succeed

His career reminds that a cat has nine lives!

Moment of truth = the moment in which something important will be shown or decided

It'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!  

What's 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 say
figurative = having a different meaning than what the words say

Two Idioms:

to get under someone's skin = to bother someone

She's getting under my skin these days!

no spring chicken = not young

Tom'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 better

I remember my years at college. Yes, those were the good old days.

tip of the iceberg / figurative = only the beginning, or just a small percentage

The problems we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg.