When Does an Idiom Become a Cliché?

Idiom:  An expression in language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically or in having a meaning that is not literal.

Cliché:  An expression that has become overly familiar or commonplace, making it trite.

The other day I glanced out the window and realized approaching rain clouds signaled my outdoor plans for that morning were going to have to wait until later in the day.  It also brought to mind the phrase storm clouds are gathering, and how that’s used to insinuate a conflict of grand proportions is about to happen.

Or has that phrase become a cliché?

If I told you it started raining cats and dogs, you know that phrase is overused.  The same goes for claiming we need to make hay while the sun shines, or there’s an ill wind blowing, or there are plenty of fish in the sea – just be sure you don’t rock the boat.

All of these sayings are built upon truisms, but they just don’t pack the punch they used to.

What about the idioms of today?  Many used currently seem headed for cliché territory.  If you’re feeling under the weather, you might not steal someone’s thunder unless you can wrap your head around how to get the ball back in your court – just be sure you don’t miss the boat.

It seems a good rule of thumb to use either sparingly.  Yes, you can even use clichés if they serve a specific purpose (such as revealing a character’s unimaginative thinking).  But if you want to write creatively, try coining your own phrase.

Instead of putting out the warning that storm clouds are gathering, you could allude to another event of impending danger.  Who knows, it might become so popular that eventually it gets overused, and one day becomes a cliché.

Let’s see, how about the chickens are getting organized…?




8 thoughts on “When Does an Idiom Become a Cliché?

    • You may be on to something there. I thought it was just because I’d been familiarizing myself with ‘military speak’ (they do love their acronyms) that I run across those a lot….

      Liked by 1 person

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