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.