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Teachers and professors would do a face-palm if the first sentence they encountered in a paper mentioned either as old as the hills or since the dawn of time. A cliché can be mildly entertaining, as in a face only a mother could love or economical with the truth, but don’t overuse them.


  • I’ll shuffle off this mortal coil when I’m good and ready.
  • You want a new car? We are poor as church mice.
  • I hope you recognize that his elevator doesn’t go to the top floor.


Most clichés are folkloric sayings from occupations (all hands on deck), sports (take one for the team), religions (robbing Peter to pay Paul), famous writings such as Shakespearean plays (pure as the driven snow), popular culture (signed, sealed, delivered), and much more. They express a very specific set of values and reflect exclusive insider knowledge, and are impenetrable to long-suffering English-language learners. Clichés comprise a large proportion of some people’s storehouse of phrases; at best, they add color and whimsy to one’s writing, but overuse results in stale and uninteresting prose.


The word cliché refers to a block of text used by printers; when they placed a block of text into place, it clicked: in French, cliché. Because each of these phrases occurs in a block, they can be clicked into place like a moveable feast. Luckily, they can be removed just as easily. To rewrite a cliché, consider getting to the heart of the basic idea, rather than relying on something that has been written too many times already. You have surely heard the expression, to cut the mustard. Why not say that someone is easily able to rise to the challenge? A diamond in the rough is about great potential; if you wish to convey the quality of a diamond, think about the essential nature of that “diamond” and celebrate it.

Clichés to Avoid Like the Plague:

  • all in a day’s work
  • all over the map
  • as old as the hills
  • at the end of the day
  • back to square one
  • best thing since sliced bread
  • between a rock and a hard place
  • by the skin of one’s teeth
  • cut the mustard
  • deer in the headlights
  • diamond in the rough
  • everything but the kitchen sink
  • face only a mother could love
  • fit as a fiddle
  • flash in the pan
  • fly in the ointment
  • give the shirt off (one’s) back
  • it is what it is
  • it’s not over till it’s over
  • kick the bucket
  • knee high to a grasshopper
  • let the cat out of the bag
  • only time will tell
  • pass with flying colors
  • play your cards right
  • run it up the flagpole
  • since the dawn of time
  • snowball’s chance in hell
  • take the bull by the horns
  • vanished into thin air
  • when pigs fly
  • the whole enchilada
  • the writing is on the wall

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