Google defines cliché as “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought,” which is why starting this piece with a definition makes me want to fire myself. I have a lot of opinions about clichés in that I believe most are objectively bad, many are annoyingly true, and a few are real diamonds in the rough. (This does not include “diamond in the rough.”) Since May is Cliché Month on Man Repeller, I’ve decided to kick things off by grading 10 popular ones according to their veracity, sophistication and general usefulness.
“Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Grade: A for involving dogs and being a great excuse for bitter old crones like Nora Taylor
What’s better than an old dog? Tricks are for show-offs. This cliché also functions as a perfect scapegoat when young people try to teach me how to use Snapchat and/or my mom still says “Who is that?” when I show her a meme.
“Don’t go to bed angry.”
Grade: C, mediocre cliché
As advice, this cliché sucks. Not because it doesn’t contain some valuable advice, but when that advice does not suit the situation, valuable sleep is lost at the hands of something inconsequential. Like when it’s 11 p.m. and I want to unpack my boyfriend’s tone when he asserted that “Nicolas Cage’s Mandy was one of the best films of 2018,” and I could just wait until morning when I’d realize it’s simply the worst take of all time and is therefore not worth sacrificing whatever sleep my CBD oil plans to bestow upon me.
“Stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
Grade: C, occasionally useful but overall annoying cliché
For some reason this cliché has always made me think of a human body stuck between a boulder and a rock cliff, which is a) haunting, and b) really just being stuck between a rock and a rock, so why call it a hard place? Seems a little try-hard. Anyone who uses this cliché in earnest is either 65 or a dweeb, respectfully.
“Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Grade: F for being true
This cliché is just rude and fails for displeasing me on a personal level.
“He’s a bad egg.”
Grade: A, fun and useful cliché
What’s a more visceral metaphor than a single egg cracked in a carton of otherwise perfectly smooth ones? This cliché does a lot of work in four words, with the additive charm of comparing people to eggs. Equally delightful when whispered by old ladies gossiping as when said ironically by peers with eyebrows raised.
“Now more than ever.”
Grade: F for being so under-the-radar that people don’t feel guilty for using it
If I read “now more than ever” one more time I’ll… probably still donate to whatever cause you’re raising money for, but still. It can’t always be true! What do you know about urgency on the scale of human time? I heard 1929 was pretty rough. I bet 1236 was a real doozy, too.
“A face only a mother could love.”
Grade: A, perfect cliché
As the mother of a cat who literally looks like his face was kicked in, this cliché is not only accurate but fills my body with warmth and affection.
“Sitting around with my thumb up my ass.”
Grade: F-, nightmare cliché
Truly the worst cliché. Please don’t make me think about your thumb lodged in your rectum. Very okay with you saying you were simply doing nothing.
“See the forest for the trees.”
Grade: C+, useful sentiment, unappealing phrasing
I use this cliché a lot and get tripped up on the word “for” every time. My mouth wants to say “through,” which makes no sense but is somehow still preferable. I just looked up the etymology and it apparently dates back to the 16th century when some guy named Haywood wrote: “Plentie is nodeintie, ye see not your owne ease. I see, ye can not see the wood for trees.” (Yikes.) Per this website, this expression could be read as, “Cannot see the forest because of the trees,” which might be the first time I’ve actually understood it.
“Do something that scares you every day.”
Grade: D, too often written in script over sunsets
First of all, this is an aggressive sentiment. Aside from being passed around Pinterest so many times it’s become hollow by repetition, it feels like a personal attack. It’s true that many fears are worth facing, but it’s also true that puttering around the house with a snack can be restorative behavior. Sometimes I get my best ideas that way! Like the idea to rank clichés.
GIF by Madeline Montoya.