In this day and age, anybody who thinks that they know what clichés are automatically assumes that everyone else does, too. The fact is – injurious to some as it may be – a vast minority of the world’s population would not be able to give a satisfactory definition of the word if asked. And, to add insult to injury, this is a very unsavoury situation indeed. However, it would not be better left unsaid.

To find a person who could tell you what a cliché is you would most likely need the accompaniment of either Dame Fortune or Lady Luck, or both, as people of this status are few and far between.

In the not so distant days gone by (previous to my seeing the light of day), I was immediately put in mind of knitting whenever the word cliché was mentioned. Needless to say (no, that’s a pun!), that condition has been corrected. Maybe I thought it was a type of stitch, perhaps a pattern – possibly even the knitting needle itself, retrospectively speaking. But the fact remained: I did not know what a cliché was. And as much as I hate to admit, I speak straight from the shoulder.

As luck would have it, I recently found out that clichés have nothing whatsoever to do with knitting, and vice-versa. This newfound knowledge found me last Tuesday night at the writer’s workshop I attend. I was extremely embarrassed by the ignorance of my cliché-related foregone conclusion – that goes without saying. But not as embarrassed as I might have been, thanks to a question put forward by an elderly gentleman. Rabbit hutches were the main topic for discussion when the aforementioned man asked what a rabbit hutch was, exactly. His errand of mercy enabled me to beat a hasty retreat, and being on the ball, I managed a miraculous escape from the bright and shining faces just in the nick of time… and, believe you me, I was none the worse for wear. Anyway, to cut a short-story even shorter, the man found out what rabbit hutches are. Better late than never.

Subsequent to finding that clichés and knitting are not related in the slightest – and being of a curious nature – I decided to track down the answer to the urgent question: What is a cliché, then?

Words fail to express how this task was easier said than done. This single and semi-precious piece of information I would like to impart to anyone who is in the same predicament I was, cost me some supreme sacrifices and superhuman effort. Needless to say (yes, now it’s a cliché!), I threw caution to the wind, stayed up till the wee small hours of the morning and now I’m white as a sheet. But, being busy as a bee and burning the midnight oil paid off in the long run.

Slowly but surely, after the discussion on rabbit hutches met its untimely end, our instructor instructed us to have an article written in a fortnight – either topical, seasonal or informative. Since I had no theme in mind – and my knowledge of seasons is strictly limited to parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – I came to the conclusion that my article would have to be informative. I thought this idea to be a diamond in the rough. I could write an article and at the same time save some people the embarrassment and queer consequences I met with due to my ignorance. I could kill two birds with one stone by clearing up the confusion clinging to clichés. Clichés cannot be considered conspicuous by their absence, on the contrary, it is their very presence that wraps them in mystery.

As you might have guessed, the first place I looked for the answer was in the dictionary. Because I did not know the correct spelling of the word, I was immediately confronted with a problem. I asked the nearest person to me at the time – an ex-priest – how to spell cliché.

He said, ‘K-L-E-E-S-H-A-Y, do you agree?’

I agreed to disagree and thought I’d push my luck further. You don’t happen to know what a Kleeshay is, do you, ex-father?

‘Indeed I do, my ex-son!’ he said. ‘It’s a type of dish – rather like a soufflé.’

I put his information to the acid test and checked it out and the closest word it had was Kleeshee – which is a small suburban area in Scotland. I could see that I was not coming along in leaps and bounds in my investigation. I thanked the ex-priest who told me to cease in my untiring efforts as all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. I told him my name was not Jack.

Call a spade a spade,’ he muttered.

I waved a farewell.

A woman in the street who looked to me to be of good personality and intense intelligence, was my next target. Could you please tell me how to spell cliché?

‘Do you mean cliche as in the impression made by a die in any soft metal, or, an electrotype or stereotype plate?’

Her French accent confused me and I admitted to being acluistic.

‘No matter,’ she said, rather Frenchly, ‘it is spelt: C-L-I-C-H-E.’

 Thank you very much an bwaynos deeass, I said, and went off to consult my common or garden variety type dictionary. After finding that the lady was perfectly correct, I turned green with envy, but felt hale and hearty because my hectic weekend was over. It was a festive occasion indeed.

There was, of course, a skeleton in the closet, as it were. Cliche had yet another completely different meaning. The book I was researching called it, (amongst other things): stereotyped or hackneyed saying or phrase, for example, thick as a brick. Adjectives – cliché-ridden, clichéd. I turned white as a sheet as the realisation of my fatal deed set in. I figured I’d have to turn over a new leaf, start afresh, begin anew, and all that jazz. It seemed I failed with flying colours. So, pouring a long, stiff drink, I drowned my sorrows.

But, like all happy endings, there was light at the end of the tunnel. The book loaned me the legend: Cliché’s tend to interfere with good writing. However, there was an ‘although’. The ‘although’ was this: They should be employed if ultimately necessary. Those words made me happy as Larry!

Last but not least, here’s some food for thought: a famous writer once said something similar to this: The difference between the correct word and a word that will do, is the difference between lightning and a lightning-bug. I believe it was the late, great Mark Twain who bestowed us with these wise words… or, on second thoughts, was it Samuel Longhorn Clemens? I’ll have to investigate this further. But no matter who said it, I’m sticking to it till the bitter end!

The Sweet End.

© 2010 Wordwurst