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.



The matrix.

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.


The stereotype.

The stereotype.


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.





Stereotype: http://digital.nls.uk/50years/pops/1971b.html

Matrix: http://the-print-guide.blogspot.com/2010/05/wayback-view-stereotype-plate-making.html

25 thoughts on “Unclichéd

  1. At first, I just loved the way you were educating me about a word I didn’t know much about. But by the time I got to the end of the post, I was laughing whole heartily. I’ve never chosen to be sadder but wiser, but I would definitely sign up for happier but stupider. Thank you so much. Always a pleasure to read your posts.

  2. YS, you are always a wonder. I feel happier yet stupider for having read this post.

    (Actually, I had never read about this aspect of print making, so I am happier and less stupid which is way better.)

    • I never knew about that part of the printing process before either. I discover all kinds of information when I write and start looking at background information.

      Thanks for reading, Elyse.

  3. I love it when you make up your mind to tackle a subject, and give it a serious run for your money. I couldn’t be happier and stupider after reading this post. Well, I suppose I could be stupider (just give me a few moments), but happier? Not a chance in hell.

  4. “Too good to be true” could suggest “too bad to be false”.

    And I agree, I’ve never cried over spilled milk — but I might cry under spilled milk, if someone spilled a lot of milk on me. Especially if it was extremely hot milk.

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