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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 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 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!
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
- 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!
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.