“The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.” –Salvador Dali
There are simply too many clichés in the world. The language is filled with them. It is hard to get through a conversation without hearing one or saying one. Most of them started out as colorful ways to describe an experience and have, through years of endless repetition, become mildly annoying, harmless platitudes that move conversation along. For some strange reason certain clichés make me extremely angry. Most float through my mental filters without much of a struggle, but every once and a while there is one that disturbs me. Since the chances of me actually getting legislation past to outlaw these incipit expressions are remote at best I have decided to address them in a constructive way, instead of quietly fuming about them day after day. I have been compiling a list over the past few months of these along with descriptions of why they bother me in the hopes of understanding the pain that they cause me and hopefully inflicting this pain on others. I have also included helpful sarcastic responses to confuse the cliché user and possibly prevent the offending expression from being used again. So, as they say, away we go….
Cliché: “Throwing the Baby Out With The Bathwater”
What kind of sick freak thought this one up? As a parent of two small children, I find the idea that I might actually forget one of them and toss them into the river with dirt-ridden water to be entirely preposterous. I get that the creator of this one is trying to make the point that whatever the person is doing is a really ridiculous thing, but what sort of lunatic would toss a baby out with bathwater?!?! They are certainly tiny, but not nearly small enough to accidentally thrown away. Maybe the person is an evil, malicious hater of babies, but this is far from the most efficient way of getting rid of them.
Appropriate Response: Look down at your shoes shaking your head for one dramatic moment, then look up and shout “Well, it’s better than shooting it!” Turn and walk off.
Cliché: “I wear many hats”
AGHHGGHHHH!!! I can’t even think about this one without seething. Yes, I know it means doing more one role, but the metaphor confuses me. Do they mean at the same time? What kind of fool would wear 3 or 4 hats at once? It would be stupid looking. There have been a lot of asinine fashion trends throughout history, but I cannot recall a single fad that had anything to do with the person wearing a lot of hats at once. Is the point that the person has multiple heads? Am I meant to imagine the person in front of me morphing into a giant hydra like beast wearing a prefaded Red Sox cap, a turban and a Michael Coreleone style fedora? More than likely, the person who said it wants me to see them as a beaming icon of capitalism and industry, efficiently moving from task to task, a vaunted leader one moment, a regular lunch pail working stiff the next, a person who can be all things to all people, a technocratic “renaissance man”, a proud beacon of all that can be achieved in a 24 hour day with a little know-how and a fist full of gumption. I think I’d prefer the hydra.
Appropriate Response: Vomiting on the persons shoes
Cliché: “Give it 110 percent”
I am well aware that the test scores of American students in math and science have declined over the last 30 years, but the fact that Americans have no qualms about repeatedly asking each other to violate common sense and mathematical reason in this way is alarming. As if this wasn’t troubling enough, the cliché inflation that has taken place is now taking place is insane. During the 2010 baseball season, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said that pitcher Gavin Floyd would only pitch if he were at “200 percent”. 1972 Democratic Presidential Candidate George McGovern, the Godfather of Cliché Inflation, started this madness when he said he was “1000 percent behind” his Vice Presidential Candidate Thomas Eagleton seconds before he tossed him kicking and screaming off of the Presidential ticket. Of course, none of this compares to the all-time Cliché Inflation champion Atlanta Attorney George Lawson who asserted that he was “a million percent certain” that his client, Auburn Quarterback Cam Newton, did not take money. Where does it end?
Appropriate Response: Give an overly loud, awkward pretend laugh, and then shout, “If I ever see you again, I’ll break both of your legs!” Turn and walk off.
Cliché: “Too many Indians, Not Enough Chiefs”
This one has started to fade into cliché obscurity for everyone except people who write those grotesque books that quote Vince Lombardi a lot and compare great managers to Ghandi and Napoleon. It doesn’t get play in the real world anymore mostly because “too many indigenous peoples and not enough chiefs” really doesn’t have a great ring. Here’s the larger problem…Chiefs ARE Indians.
Appropriate Response: Look deeply offended and reply, “Are you trying to say that there are too many Indians? What kind of idiot racist would make a claim like that!”?
I’ve got a ton more of these but I’ll save them for a rainy day.
#1 by Jim Wheeler on March 28, 2011 - 8:16 PM
Sounds to me like you’re coming to a fork in the road here, Keith. My advice?
#2 by Keith Spillett on March 28, 2011 - 8:19 PM
#3 by Calhoun on March 28, 2011 - 8:21 PM
Another one that disturbs me is “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
I mean, did somebody research that? Because I’m sure that there’s more than one way, but how do you know that for sure?
Torturing and killing animals is one of the first signs of a serial killer, that’s all I’m sayin’. Do you really wanna listen to a cliche that a serial killer came up with?
I know I don’t.
#4 by Keith Spillett on March 28, 2011 - 8:24 PM
Oh man….that’s good! I’m kicking myself I didn’t think of it first.
#5 by Guillermo Verano on March 28, 2011 - 8:47 PM
These are all great. You could have fifty columns just on sports ones. My favorite, that Bill Simmons always points out, is that whenever white basketball players hustle or get a rebound, they’re “scrappy.” Has a black dude ever been called “scrappy”? Ever? Wasn’t Dennis Rodman the definition of scrappy? Or Bruce Bowen? Nope, gotta save scrappy for Tyler Hansborough and Steve Wojehowski.
#6 by Keith Spillett on March 28, 2011 - 9:00 PM
Ain’t that the truth! I got started on this tangent because I was generally annoyed at all of the “Cinderella…the slipper fits….it hasn’t struck midnight yet” nonsense I heard all weekend.
#7 by G-LO on March 28, 2011 - 11:26 PM
That was hIlarious! If it’s any consolation. I once saw a play that was called “Baby with the Bathwater”. Not sure why I saw it (I think the friend of a friend was in it), but I remember really disliking it.
I too have words/phrases that make me insane every time I hear them. Here are three of them:
#1 – Disrespected: This was heavily used in The Fighter by the trashy sisters and mom. Funny how I never hear anybody with any sense use this word. Great movie by the way!
#2 – Hurtful: This word just annoys me to no end. Haven’t figured out why yet.
#3 – Thinking Outside the Box: I understand what it means, but as I get older, I realize that before you can think outside the box, you should begin to understand what is inside the box and how you can best use what’s there to your advantage.
#8 by Keith Spillett on March 29, 2011 - 7:23 AM
Great ones! Thinking outside the box is really annoying. It makes me think of mimes. I don’t like mimes.
#9 by juan don on March 30, 2011 - 6:31 PM
Every time I see a mime (which isn’t a lot, thank God), I immediately think of Father Fergus. He’d tell the altar boys jokes between Eucharist breaks.
Pirate walks into a bar with a ship’s wheel shoved down his pants. Bartender says, “Hey, pirate, did you know you have a ship’s wheel shoved down your pants?” Pirate says, “Arrr! And it’s drivin’ me nuts!”
#10 by Keith Spillett on March 30, 2011 - 7:30 PM
Hey Mr. Don,
Long time no speak! How come you had the cool priest? Mine used to hit me with holy water and make my skin burn. He stopped once I figured out how to make my head rotate 360 degrees.
#11 by G-LO on March 30, 2011 - 8:32 PM
And speaking of The Exorcist…
#12 by Jim Wheeler on March 30, 2011 - 9:04 PM
#13 by Keith Spillett on March 30, 2011 - 9:15 PM
That sketch is wonderful. Pryor had some of the best facial expressions I’ve seen.
#14 by G-LO on March 30, 2011 - 10:17 PM
So true. I remember seeing it as a kid. Unforgettable!
#15 by Ratso Rizzo on April 5, 2011 - 10:08 AM
At the risk of being declared Pedant of the Week, you’ve phrased your last cliché backwards. It’s “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.” Because, obviously, no one [in business, where this cliché is most likely to be used] wants to be an Indian; everyone wants to be a chief — the person who makes the orders, not the peon who takes them. Perhaps you really detest this bromide because your version has never made sense to you, as well it shouldn’t.
#16 by Keith Spillett on April 5, 2011 - 12:12 PM
I think yours makes more sense, but I dislike it either way. I think I heard it the other way a few times in order to discuss the lack of leadership in a situation, but it’s also quite possible that I have some sort of Yogi Berra filter in my mind that twists cliches around.
I could never give someone who chose the moniker Ratso Rizzo a demeaning award like Pedant of the Week. That is way too cool!
Stay away from Greyhound buses and I’ll try to stop counting my hatches before they chicken.
#17 by Lily on November 25, 2012 - 6:44 AM
No need to be so angry – it’s unnecessary. It sounds to me as if you’re desperately trying to pick out something that annoys you further so that you can quietly fume about how cliche they all are. There’s absolutely no need for that. While I agree that some statements, over time, have become terribly overused, I think you’d be happier just grasping the point of it and moving along with your life. Other than that, great post.