Wednesday, November 06, 2013

 

Confessions of a Cliché user

Author's note: I received honorable mention in the "humorous prose" category of the 2013 writing contest sponsored by the Springfield Writer's Guild. The contest had over 600 submissions from 16 states.

Clichés rule our lives. I know this to be a fact because I am a cliché user. Most people wouldn't believe this in a million years. So, at the risk of either paying through the nose for this claim or missing the broad side of the barn by overstating the facts, I want to take the bull by the horns and provide an example for skeptics. You may find this story to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to your opinion of clichés.

My first public experience with clichés came in high school when an English teacher gave our class a lecture about not using clichés. She used my essay, "Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen Spoil the Broth," as an example. After she had finished reading my essay, she announced that it was not going to cut the mustard.

"If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: don't beat around the bush by using clichés," said Mrs. Wilson. "As every good school boy knows, these off the wall sayings are old hat, and you should avoid them like the plague. Don't use words any Tom, Dick or Harry would use. Instead, use the real McCoy, ideas straight from the horse's mouth. If you don't you'll be barking up the wrong tree, and people will think you have bats in your belfry. Personally, I wouldn't touch a cliché with a ten-foot pole."

I was not surprised by my teacher’s reaction. She had been tough on me before. She once said I was dumber than a box of rocks. She often told me not to be so bull-headed and anytime I had a come-back she would say I have more excuses than Carter’s got liver pills. But this time, I was surprised by what I had heard. Even though she was now on me like white on rice, I felt like I had no choice but to be an eager beaver and challenge her speech. Even though nobody was going to mollycoddle me, I assumed the proof was in the pudding, so I raised my hand.

"That sounds like the pot calling the kettle black," I said. "Either take it or leave it when it comes to clichés. I’ve got the patience of Job, but you can’t have it both ways. To me, it seems the die was cast early in our lives to use clichés, and we can't stop it in one fell swoop. Perhaps you should just wake up and smell the coffee."

My teacher flashed a cunning smile then sat down on her desk. "Granted, clichés show there is more than one way to skin a cat, but I think you are just too big for your britches and perhaps a little wet behind the ears. I know you are skating on thin ice," Mrs. Wilson said. "Judging from your reaction, you need to stop wearing your heart on your sleeve. I know you are in hog heaven when you use clichés, but there are rules of grammar and writing and I suggest you get on the stick and learn them. Otherwise, your goose is cooked."

I was a little surprised my teacher’s reaction. "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me," I said. "I am going to have the last laugh because everyone loves clichés. I wouldn't stop using them for all the tea in China or for all of the mosquito bites at a nudist colony.  If others don't like it, then that’s the way the old cookie crumbles, but clichés truly float my boat. If someone has a problem with it, I suggest they build a bridge and get over it."

By this time, my teacher was mad as a hatter. I could tell she was going to hold my feet to the fire. "I think you've bitten off more than you can chew,” she said while writing out my detention pass. "You weren't born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and although boys will be boys, you are behaving as if you got up on the wrong side of the bed. But I didn’t fall off the potato wagon yesterday. I'm going to teach against clichés until the cows come home, and you can put that in your pipe and smoke it."

For a few moments, the cat had my tongue. I felt like I was on my last leg and close to biting the dust. I realized, I was not going to be able to change my teachers mind on the issue. After all, only once in a blue moon can you lead a horse to water and make it drink. Even though I was hitting the nail on the head with facts this argument in front of the class was a horse of a different color.

"Keep your shirt on," I said. "Can't we just forget the whole kit and caboodle? Maybe I counted my chickens before they hatched. But, make no bones about it, being sent from the class is no skin off my teeth. I will be as snug as a bug in a rug. I'll fit right in with everyone in detention-- when In Rome, do as the Romans do, I always say. I can figure it out, after all, I was born at night, but not last night."

So, to make a long story short, the naked truth is that I got sent to detention. This whole ordeal became a skeleton in my closet since I wasn’t doing it for my health. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I must conclude that clichés are an indispensable part of our language and using them is as easy as falling off a log. The proof of that is in the pudding. If I’m lying, I’m dying. So there you have it, the confession of a cliché user.


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