By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter
I first noted a friend’s propensity for clichés several years ago when she quite randomly started to list movie stars whom she considered to be “eye candy.” I had never heard that phrase, but using context and my powers of deduction, I eventually figured out it meant the actor’s aesthetics were as delicious to the eye as candy to the taste buds. Of course, while deciphering the cliché, I could not help but visualize salt water taffy stuck in someone’s left eye. Thus the problems of those who have a propensity for literal translations. It was a disturbing side effect to which I have never admitted because I am sure once armed with the knowledge that my brain often gets tangled, she would unrelentingly bombard me with then making all conversations a virtual verbal minefield.
A self-proclaimed introvert who frequently announces how she hates being the center of attention, she can nevertheless not stop sharing her opinions. Ever. She carries with her a Kindle behind which she disappears when she runs out of relevant idioms. Her desire to be isolated while attracting attention is almost as frustrating as clichés
Clichés can be useful and often capture the correct mood or relate the experience with a nominal number of superfluous words. But entire conversations cannot be based on American idioms, common clichés and superlatives. It was after the candyin the eyeball conversation that I determined I hate clichés. It was also during this period that I
discovered every time my husband discussed politics, he used more snippets of these tired, overly used phrases.
My intense adversity to them is simply not reasonable. I want my husband to use words that describe his feelings or opinions without actually repeating the news reporter’s verbiage. I want to hear about the day without listening to repetition.
“Oh my gosh,” my friend once exclaimed as she plopped, then rolled over on my fine pleather couch. “Today is so disgustingly hot. It’s the hottest I have ever felt in FOREVER. It’s hotter than a mouse in a wool sock.”
Once again the visual of a tiny cartoon mouse sleeping in a colorful yarn stocking popped in my head. I hadn’t heard that one before, and it didn’t make sense. No creature would willingly remain in a nest of wool if overheated. But more significantly, it wasn’t that warm outside. The temperature had topped at 86 degrees that day, which for a Virginia summer day is far from deserving of the superlatives.
She continued her rant: “I had the most horrid food today. It was dry as a bone, tasteless and disgusting. I could barely eat it. Where did they even learn to cook? How did they even become a chain?”
I couldn’t figure out why she had come over. I neither needed a weather report nor a culinary review. I needed a nap.
Her one-sided conversation continued imparting nothing but her large collection of trite commentary. She was able to talk for hours without actually saying anything. Though full of descriptive nonsense and superlatives, it lacked the content to merit a reply.
My eye-rolling and heavy sighs went unnoticed as I pretended to pay attention. Even though I have acquired an intense disdain for such a common way of communicating, I am very aware how difficult they are to master when English is not the native language.
My mother was born and raised in Germany. Learning English started at the elementary levels, but she fined-tuned her language skills by eventually immigrating to the U.S. where she watched American TV, read voraciously, married a wonderful man and had two daughters who brought idioms and strep throat home without prejudice.
Regardless of our teachings, she still got several phrases wrong. We still use them because they remind us of her. That, and they are just plain silly.
Our favorite phrase, which is still used as often as possible, was first uttered at the dinner table. One of us—either my sister or me—kept talking about a particular subject without rest. After a tedious amount of jabbering, my mother finally slapped the table with authority. “That’s it!” she exclaimed. But this is where is went horribly awry. Her intention was to utter the cliché, “Don’t beat a dead horse,” a kind way of telling us that no matter how much we chatter, interest in the subject at hand cannot and will not be revived. In short, “shut up.”
Instead of using this well-known phrase, she admonished, “Don’t sit on old cakes!”
All subjects were forgotten within the raucous laughter that followed. No one knows what she could have been thinking, but it has never been forgotten.
Clichés can be horribly boring, repetitive and unimaginative. Whole conversations should not be based on idioms, but there can be opportunity to pull out the occasional phrase.
Just don’t sit on old cakes.
DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Northern Virginia.