Saturday, June 13, 2009

The only way to speak of a cliché is with a cliché. So even the best writers against clichés are awkwardly placed. When Eric Partridge amassed his Dictionary of Cliches in 1940 (1978 saw its fifth edition), his introduction had no choice but to use the usual clichés for clichés. Yet what, as a metaphor, could be more hackneyed than hackneyed, more outworn than outworn, more tattered than tattered? Is there any point left to—or in or on—saying of a cliché that its ‘original point has been blunted’? Hasn’t this too become blunted? A cliché is ‘a phrase “on tap” as it were’—but, as it is, is Patridge’s ‘as it were’ anything more than a cool pretence that when, for his purposes, he uses the cliché on tap it’s oh so different from the usual bad habit of having those two words on tap? His indictment of ‘fly-blown phrases’ has no buzz of insect wings, no weight of carrion.
Even George Orwell (whom William Empson, with an audacious compacting of clichés, called the eagle eye with the flat feet)—even Orwell had to use the cliché-cliches (hackneyed, outworn), and could say, ‘There is a long list of fly-blown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job,’ without apparently being interested himself in whether fly-blown wasn’t itself one of those very metaphors which could be got rid of. That was in 1946, in his famous piece ‘Politics and the English language.’

--the Force of Poetry, Christopher Ricks (1984)



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