According to me, clichés, once très nouveaux, began life as bon mots, lighting up conversations like small flambeaux, small feathers in speakers’ verbal chapeaux, as tasty as escargots. But, alas, alack the day, they grew stale, worn, dim, left as empty shells on the conversationalists’ dinner plate, having had their meat carefully extracted years ago.
According to reliable sources (not me), printers are responsible for the first clichés, French for the stereotype blocks used to make books, pamphlets, and advertisements. Cliché, past participle of clicher, is derived from cliquer, the sound you know in English as “click.” After setting type, printers used pressure or heat to create a copy on heavy paper, plaster of Paris, or felt. They placed this copy, known as a matrix or mat, in a casting box, poured molten metal in, and voila, created a stereotype that could print endless copies of the original.
If you’re like me (and if so, please send my condolences to your family), you read that last paragraph and something in you clicked. Cliché, stereotype, casting – are we heading into a post about Hollywood movies? No, not today.
I have a soft spot in my heart for clichés. They remind me of photos of people in Wal-Mart. With a haircut, more clothes, and intensive therapy they would look just fine.
So, without further hellos, or as Shakespeare would surely say, without further ado about nothing, or as so many Americans mistakenly say, without further adieu, here are my suggestions.
At the crack of dawn could be the dawn-crack (much like daybreak) or dawn’s crack. Example: The minute I saw dawn’s crack, I knew it was time to leave. (Note: If your name is Dawn and you visit Wal-Mart, I am not talking about you.)
Few people cry over spilled milk, but many parents cry over spilled red Kool-Aid.
Since people are busier these days than they used to be, help in your hour of need needs to be reduced to your half-hour of need. The internet-addicted could stand by people in their five minutes of need.
We could give last but not least a rest and start using first but not most.
Climbing the ladder of success could be restated for the rich and powerful as stepping on the escalator of success.
The two clichés using “sad” need antonyms. Sad but true provides happy but false, and sadder but wiser gives us happier but stupider. Example: Yearstricken lost hours of her life clicking on links to funny tweets and lolcats, leaving her happier but stupider.
And finally, when people are clearly not worth their weight in gold, we could at least allow that they are worth their weight in aluminum.