Those of us whose stock in trade is words are well aware that the cardinal sin of that trade is to employ expressions that are well past their sell-by date. An over-reliance on cliches is the kiss of death for any writer worth their salt, leaving their prose as flat as a pancake. Let one hackneyed phrase too many slip through the net and the harsh truth can render even the most brilliant of minds a laughing stock.
Nobody is immune from this crippling tendency. As I write this now, burning the midnight oil, trying frantically to meet that deadline, the possibility of being caught napping is ever present. Lest one cliche slip my mind and the whole article come a cropper as a result, I always keep the estimable cliche-finder at www.westegg.com/cliche close at hand to assist me in damage limitation.
The site in question is contained within the framework of the homepage of one Steven Morgan Friedman, a young American graduate evidently possessed of a steely determination to rid the world once and for all of language that has seen better days. A man after my own heart, Friedman has painstakingly tracked down more than 3,300 overused expressions and catalogued them in a way that is, by any reckoning, user-friendly. Not without his airs and graces, Friedman is also not above being cliched himself: like many young Americans of his ilk, he counts Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead as a formative influence. As well as parading all the old favourites and the household names in the world of cliches, the site introduces a number of lesser known ones that will be sure to leave the mind boggling. For example, check out “never challenge a skunk to a pissing duel” – what’s that all about? All credit to Friedman; his cliche-finder is, quite literally, a godsend. A shot in the arm for the writer aspiring to prose that is crystal clear. And clarity, at the end of the day, is what it all boils down to.
Originally published by The Guardian.