The Proverbial Cliché

The only writer worse than one who falls back on clichés is one who prefaces the cliché with “proverbial.” That construct has been used so often it has become a cliché in itself. Even worse, it draws attention to the writer. It says that the writer is too lazy to come up with something original, but he or she knows it’s a cliché, so it’s okay.

No, it’s not okay. I admit that sometimes only a cliché will work, like the tip of the iceberg; it’s almost impossible to come up with another metaphor for something that is mostly unseen with only a bit showing. But if you are going to use a cliché, use it proudly. Don’t hide behind the mealy-mouthed “proverbial.”

In the past few months, I’ve come across:

The proverbial iceberg
The proverbial whipped puppy
Capture the proverbial brass ring
Out like the proverbial light
Bite the proverbial bullet
Kick the proverbial bucket
Shining like the proverbial beacon
Deer in the proverbial headlights
Proverbial duck to water
Wither on the proverbial vine
Needle in the proverbial haystack
Sleep like the proverbial top
The proverbial red herring
The proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan
The proverbial proverb

Okay, so I didn’t see the last one, but at the rate authors are tossing “proverbial” our way, it’s only a matter of time.

Note: all of these proverbial clichés were found in books by brand name writers. Another example of don’t do as they do.

5 Responses to “The Proverbial Cliché”

  1. joylene Says:

    Oh, I agree. Where would we be without cliches. I think you covered them all. Lately, I’ve been making a job of search and destroy. Otherwise, they come out on paper so fast my head spins. I’d rather lay like a sidewalk than be caught slinging cliches.

  2. Sheila Deeth Says:

    Ouch. More cliched than the cliche. But now I’ll be looking for them in everything I read.

  3. paulnjean@hotmail.com Says:

    Using proverbial is intented to “freshen up” the cliché. To make it new again and not really a cliché any more. Most annoying. But there it is. People will invariably seize upon the cheap, easy way. Just as you now need !!!!!!!! in order for anyone to pay attention to your writing. Or ????????? before any question is considered worthy. All this is, in my opinion, just a part of the general degradation of education. Ignorance is, it’s just masive, it’s everywhere. It”s “required.” Anyone who is not ignorant is shunned and may even be physically attacked! Who does he think he is, some smart guy?…wham.!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      That’s true. You have to be very careful not to sound too smart so people don’t think you’re trying to put them down. It’s amazing we manage to communicate as well as we do. Sad state of affairs when a certain level of ignorance is necessary in order to be smart.

  4. P&J Says:

    paulnjean are back. Thought you might appreciate this:

    But the armed wing of Hamas said the Egyptian plan “wasn’t worth the ink it was written with.”

    To which Israeli officials replied, “Their response is just the tip of the iceberg. Finding a solution with these people is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Well, it’s just another nail in their coffin. We are armed to the teeth, won’t pay lip service to them, will push the envelope on this one.”


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