For the past several months, I’ve been giving writing workshops to children. Every Sunday afternoon, students in Grades 4, 5 and 6 learn about formatting essays, figurative language and other aspects of writing. Last week, I taught them about clichés. However, some of the sayings I thought were commonplace, aren’t so much anymore.
Clichés are those sayings that are repeated so often that they’re meaningless. We’ve heard expressions like abandon ship, fit as a fiddle, walk a mile in another’s shoes, etc. a lot and the words don’t affect us anymore. I tell my students that their favourite authors don’t use clichés, they think of new ways to describe things.
In Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling paints a picture with words without using clichés. Here is an example:
Nearly Headless Nick (a ghost), Harry noticed, was still holding Sir Patrick’s rejection letter.
“I wish there was something I could do for you about the Headless Hunt,” Harry said.
Nearly Headless Nick stopped in his tracks and Harry walked right through him. He wished he hadn’t; it was like stepping through an icy shower.
The obvious cliché would be to write that Harry felt like “a ghost passed through him.” Clichés distance readers from the story – writers need to connect readers with actions and events that they can imagine too. Rowling knew most readers wouldn’t have had experiences with ghosts passing through them. However, we all know what an icy shower feels like.
I asked my students what Apple of my eye meant. They shouted out that it was about owning iGlasses / smart glasses. I said no, that wasn’t it and waited for the correct response. Other comments ranged from liking Mac computers over PCs as well as iPads. No, that’s not it either.
When I was young (30 years ago), no one called anyone the apple of their eye. Nevertheless, I still knew what it meant – being someone’s darling. I was surprised that the expression is disappearing from our vernacular. I didn’t think I was old as the hills yet but I guess only time will tell what other clichés go the way of the dodo bird.