What is a Cliché? Definition, Examples of Clichés in Literature and Speech

Cliché definition: A cliché is an expression that has been overused to the point in which it has lost its impact.

What is a Cliché in Literature?

Clichés originated as wise metaphors; however, through overuse and misuse they have lost their original impact.

Examples of Clichés

Using the phrase “under the weather” is a popular cliché that indicates when a person is feeling ill.

People often use the cliché “don’t push my buttons” when they are warning people against intentionally aggravating them.

Modern Examples of Clichés

Here are some additional examples of clichés that people might use in everyday conversation:

  • “been there, done that” = cliché that refers to someone’s boredom with an activity or situation
  • “get a grip” = cliché that means for someone to get a hold on the situation when they are loosing their calmness
  • “time heals all wounds” = cliché used when trying to encourage someone that their grieving will eventually end.
  • “I lost track of time” = a cliché expression used to explain a person’s tardiness
  • “keep in touch” = cliché used to encourage someone to continue contact
  • “at the speed of light” = used to describe someone’s fast speed

The Function of Clichés

Clichés function socially in a sense that they are widely understood; however, they do not achieve a sincere effect on the audience. These phrases have lost their meaning through overuse; therefore, they do not profoundly impact the audience.

For example, if a woman lost her spouse and a friend told her that “time heals all wounds” the widow would not feel comfort due to the cliché rather than genuine advice. While clichés should be avoided in situations where being genuine is important, there are times when they are appropriate.

For example, in children’s stories the cliché of “happily ever after,” is often used at the end of a fairy tale. This use of clichés allows for the young audience to easily understand and make connections to other fairy tales.

Examples of Clichés in Literature

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the line “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” has become cliché through overuse. A once poetic statement regarding the trivialness of names has now become a meaningless love phrase.

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, the phrase “Big Brother is watching you” has become an example of cliché. A once profound statement regarding excessive government control has now become a phrase used to describe any situation involving privacy invasion.

In Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the phrase “to be or not to be that is the question” has now become a cliché phrase. A once profoundly philosophical internal dialogue has now become a meaningless phrase that people use often out of context.

Summary: What are Clichés?

Define cliché: Clichés are statements that once held profound meaning and impact but through misuse and overuse have lost these effects.

Final Example:

The phrase “there is method in his madness” is a clichéd statement that originates from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This cliché was derived from Polonius’ line, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”

This profound line originally had great impact to describe Hamlet’s strange philosophies, but it has been used so much that it has lost its meaning.