Friday, July 20, 2007


Too much truth is uncouth.
-Franklin P. Adams

As a whole, our society uses clichés so often that even the word “cliché” is cliché. Isn’t it funny how something so simple can change the way we view things?

It also seems apparent that people are more apt to use a cliché instead of thinking of something interesting to say for themselves, and that its easier for them to use a cliché, so why shouldn’t they? Well, I’ve compiled a list of some common clichés that Americans use entirely too often, (and also some older one’s that haven’t been heard of ‘in a coon’s age’) that I’ve found browsing the net.


ain't that the pot calling the kettle black
-selling like hotcakes
-like flies on shit
-from famine to feast, (or vise versa)
-well slap the dog & spit on the fire

-chew you a new asshole
-don't have a cow
-shit a brick
-the platter was better than the meat
-up one side and down the other

-so hungry I could eat a horse
-time flies when you're having fun
-people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones
-can't see the forest for the trees
-bust your chops

-like there's no tomorrow
-from dusk till dawn
-till the cows come home
-too little too late
-passing the buck

-on/off the wagon
-jumping on the bandwagon
-ain't just whistlin' Dixie
-it's a cakewalk
-Damned if I do, Damned if I don't

-knock on wood
-walking on eggshells
-beggars can't be choosers
-walking on thin ice
-love is a many splintered thing

-a rose is a rose is a rose
-if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it must be a duck
-if you can't walk the walk, don't talk the talk
-kill'em all, let God sort'em out
-if you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen

-only the strong survive
-survival of the fittest
-the meek shall inherit the earth
-ask & you shall receive
-never look a gift horse in the mouth

-no use flogging a dead horse
-there's no honor among thieves
-you can't judge a book by its cover
-fit for a king
-every rose has a thorn

-every dog has its day
-when the going gets tough, the tough get going
-if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem
-"We are each the keepers of our own soul"
-I am my own redeemer

-if everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you?
-am I my brother's keeper?
-if it ain't broke, don't fix it
-like an accident waiting to happen
-it beats picking cotton

-takes the cake
-it ain't over till the fat lady sings
-through hell or high water
-digging his/her own grave
-put my foot in my mouth

-digging a hole for yourself
-bit off more than you could chew
-it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game
-cut off your nose to spite your face
-dog will hunt

-livin' in the fast lane
-always a day late and a dollar short
-greatest thing since sliced bread
-green with envy
-don't bite the hand that feeds you

-read between the lines
-one man's trash is another man's treasure
-you made your bed, now you gotta lie in it
-throwing the baby out with the bath water
-stubborn as a mule

-out in left field
-throw in the towel
-in the ballpark
-out of this world

-well, I'll be
-heaven's to Betsy
-rode hard and put away wet
-too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash
-just staying one day ahead of yesterday

-just taking it one day at a time
-life do get daily don't it
-up a creek without a paddle
-more than one way to skin a cat
-out of sight, out of mind

-absence makes the heart grow fonder
-I'll be a monkey's uncle
-like white on rice
-do I look like I was born yesterday?
-looks like someone hit you with an ugly stick

-she's not ugly, she's FUGLY
-is the Pope Catholic?
-does a bear shit in the woods?
-were you born in a barn?
-like a bat out of hell

-tastes like chicken
-you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar
-a dime a dozen
-riding on my coattails
-dry as a bone

-skeletons in the closet
-airing your dirty laundry
-dead as a doorknob
-dumber than a bucket of rocks
-money doesn't grow on trees

-caught between a rock and a hard place
-out of the frying pan and into the fire
-sweet as pie
-tough as nails
-straight as an arrow

-you better straighten up and fly right
-when hell freezes over
-when pigs fly
-a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
-a penny saved is a penny earned

-more fun than a barrel of monkeys
-what's stuck in your craw?
-what's good for the goose is good for the gander
-love it or leave it
-like shooting fish in a barrel

-two birds with one stone
-if you can't beat'em, join'em
-shooting yourself in the foot
-don't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out

-one in a million
-another face in the crowd
-the grass is always greener on the other side
-no use crying over spilled milk
-still wet behind the ears

-you can't teach an old dog new tricks
-the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world
-a watched pot never boils
-never say never
-we all have our crosses to bear

-grin & bear it
-have a nice day
-shit happens
-life's a bitch
-let sleeping dogs lie

-that's the way the cookie crumbles
-on top of the world
-the die is cast
-what's done is done
-et tu, Brute?

-right as rain
-judge not, lest ye be judged
-give an inch, take a mile
-all's well that ends well
-don't make a mountain out of a molehill

-to the victor goes the spoils
-fit to be tied
-doing a slow burn
-sharp as a tack (or marble, if you aim to insult)
-the old gray mare just ain't what she used to be

-once bitten, twice shy
-better late than never
-hindsight is 20-20
-like a bat out of hell
-if wishes were horses then beggars would ride

-cool as a cucumber
-monkey see, monkey do
-Vini, Vidi, Vici
-something rotten in Denmark
-one bad apple spoils the bunch

-an eye for an eye. a tooth for a tooth
-many hands make light the work
-a chain is only as strong as its weakest link
-knee jerk reaction
-been there, done that

-shotgun wedding
-trouble with a capital "T"
-shoot first, ask questions later
-shooting from the hip
-shot in the dark

-shot to hell
-on a roll
-a rolling stone gathers no moss
-read me like a book
-wears his/her heart on his/her sleeve

-chip on his/her shoulder
-chip off the old block
-just fell off the turnip truck
-been around the block a few times
-old as the hills

-busy as a bee
-doubting Thomas
-catch as catch can
-stupid is as stupid does
-you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink

-dirt poor/filthy rich
-a snail's pace
-mouth like a (swears like a) sailor/truck driver
-potty/toilet mouth
-waiting with baited breath

-there's no time like the present
-if at first you don't succeed, try and try again
-if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right
-raised in a sandbox

-what will be will be
-plenty of fish in the sea
-better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all
-the emperor wears no clothes
-the blind leading the dumb/naked

-the only thing to fear is fear itself
-the buck stops here
-eat the rich
-let the cat out of the bag
-killing yourself to live

-opportunity only knocks once
-pull yourself up by the bootstraps
-take the world by the balls/by storm
-it's not the heat, it's the humidity
-shit or get off the pot

-always a bridesmaid, never a bride
-women/men, can't live with'em, can't live without'em
-can't say, not knowing
-the squeaky wheel gets the grease
-don't count your chickens before they hatch

-if anything can go wrong it will (Murphy's Law)
-at the drop of a hat/dime
-the apple doesn't fall far from the tree
-chip off the old block
-oy vey!

-the end justifies the means
-what doesn't kill us makes us stronger
-where do you hang your hat?
-you get what you give
-what goes around comes around

-when in Rome, do as the Romans do
-it's all Greek to me
-on the tip of my tongue
-we can put a man on the moon but we can't...
-what does that have to do with the price of rice/tea in china

-i wouldn't do that for all the tea in China
-the south shall rise again
-what is this, the Spanish Inquisition/20 questions?
-quit giving me the 3rd degree
-speak of the devil

-look what the cat dragged in
-cat got your tongue?
-quit bustin' my chops
-the prodigal son returns
-misery loves company

-don't put the horse before the cart
-the lesser of two evils
-hell hath no fury like a woman scorned
-the way to a man's heart is through his stomach
-fit to be tied

-well pinch my toes and call me a jelly doughnut
-that's a whole new can of worms
-you can't have your cake and eat it too
-many a mickle macks a muckle

-I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts
-an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
-it takes all kinds
-in the doghouse
-at a loss for words

-what goes up must come down
-knocked for a loop
-the last rose of summer
-at breakneck speed
-wonder of wonders

-son of a gun!
-sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.
-a word to the wise
-where there's smoke there's fire
-a thorn in my side

-rarin' to go
-get the lead out
-shape up or ship out
-blue in the face
-you better believe it!

-give him/her enough rope to hang him/herself
-who died and left you the boss?
-when you gotta go, you gotta go
-there may be snow on the roof, but there's fire in the belly
-the last straw

-smooth as silk
-physician, heal thyself
-the last rose of summer
-that's like closing the barn door after the horse escapes
-in one ear and out the other

-it's a jungle out there
-in the back of my mind
-bite me
-handy as a pocket on a shirt
-it beats being beat in the butt with a dead rabbit

-it beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
-fuck 'em and feed 'em fishheads.
-don't get your knickers in a twist / Panties in a wad/ bunch / bundle
-he/she's so buck-toothed he/she could bite a pumpkin through a picket fence.
-hard as a carp.

-life's hard, then you die
-two heads are better than one
-you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink
-a watched pot never boils
-fools rush in where angels fear to tread

-so hungry I could eat the ass end out of a rhino
-slicker n' snot
-don't that just tear the rag off'n the bush!
-whatever floats your boat
-whatever melts your butter

-don't that just butter your grits
-children should be seen, not heard
-were you born in a barn?
-six of one, half dozen of the other
-blind as a bat

-go piss up a rope
-it's like trying to nail porridge to the wall
-beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
-you don't know what's in the pickle barrel till you take the lid off.
-stupid is as stupid does.

-life is like a box of chocolates.
-he lies like a rug.
-too many cooks spoil the broth.
-a watched pot never boils.
-it's not the hate, it's the stupidity.

-so close, yet so far away.
-close, but no cigar.
-close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
-time flies when you're havin' fun.
-things aren't always what they seem.

-all that glitters is not gold.
-you can't judge a book by it's cover.
-too close for comfort.
-makin' a list and checkin' it twice.
-it's raining cats and dogs.

-there's more than one fish in the sea.
-the straw that broke the camel's back
-more than you can shake a stick at
-he who has the gold, rules
-grass doesn't grow on a busy street

-time is of the essence
-hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil
-there's only two things certain in life - death and taxes
-wouldn't weigh ten pounds wet carrying a mule
-is a frogs ass water tight

-sounds like somebody sawing through a bag of wet chickens
-aw, prairie shit
-stick it to the man
-he/she looks like a drowned rat
-if dumb were dirt, he/she would be about an acre.

-you can't get blood from a turnip
-let's run it up the flagpole and see who salutes
-you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear
-you can't run a jackass in the derby and expect to win
-soft/smooth as a baby's ass

-music to my ears
-pretty as a picture
-hot under the collar
-as slow as molasses
-can't tell his ass from a hole in the ground

-a sight for sore eyes
-at the crack of dawn
-at the stroke of midnight
-as fast as lightning
-for the birds

-that's neither here nor there
-when the cat's away, the mice will play
-built like a brick shit-house
-easy come, easy go
-don't put all your eggs in one basket

-naked as a jaybird
-once in a blue moon
-It's so hot I'm sweatin' pickles
-My dogs are barkin'
-Having a rip-snortin' good time!

-Aww, fuck me!
-you could hear a mouse piss on cotton
-the glove don't make the ball player!
-it's like deja vu all over again
-it ain't over till it's over

-measure twice, cut once
-cheat/fool me once, shame on you. Cheat/fool me twice, shame on me!
-when you're boarding out the boat, you don't bother to paint it
-don't shit on your own doorstep
-look before you leap

-green with envy
-more ____ than Carter's has liver pills (or Wrigley's has gum)
-does a chicken have lips?"
-colder than a witch's tit
-a stitch in time, saves nine

-shit a brick
-eat shit and bark at the moon
-like stink on shit
-shit fire and fall in it
-in deep shit

-his/her shit doesn't stink
-useless as a screen door on a submarine
-useless as a pocket in a pair of underpants
-useless as tits on a bull
-fuck a rockpile if I figured there was a snake in there

-blood is thicker then water
-what crawled up your butt and died?
-who peed in your cornflakes?
-well frost my cookies
-he's got enough money to burn a wet mule.

-they're so poor they'd steal shit from a chicken.
-that's a new wrinkle in my horn.
-it's gone tits up
-what ever flips your switch.
-go for it!

-drier than a burnt bush
-colder than a witches tit in a brass bra
-doesn't know the difference between shit and applebutter
-colder than a well digger's ass
-like pantyhose on a mermaid

-like tits on a bullfrog
-cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey
-if shit were concrete, you/he/she it would be I80
-ta ta for now

-the cat's meow
-close, but no cigar.
-close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades
-in one ear and out the other
-don't guild the lilly

-making a world of difference
-making ends meet
-dare to be different
-do the wild thing
-two cans short of six pack.

-you'd complain if you were hung with a new rope.
-he wouldn't say shit if he had a mouthful.
-no matter where you go...there you are.
-since God was a small boy
-he/she has more money than God

-he who hesitates is lost.
-look before you leap
-a stitch in time saves nine
-the more the merrier
-two is company, three is a crowd

-those who have, get
-the rich get richer and the poor get poorer
-time will tell
-in for a penny, in for a pound
-higher than a hawks' nest.

-busier than a long snake in the mall parking lot.
-finer than beach sand and not near as gritty.
-finer than frog fur (fuzz).
-finer than moon dust.
-lost as a Betsy bug.

-lost like a ball in high weeds.
-I'm insurance poor.
-cool your jets.
-pin a rose on your nose.
-you done bumped your head!

-two hairs past the freckle, eastern elbow time.
-give it a rest.
-well, spank my ass and call me Judy
-the bottom line.
-a happy camper.

-alrighty, then!
-is the Pope Polish?
-flatter than piss on a platter.
-he's so tight he squeaks.
-he's so crooked they'll have to screw him in to the ground.

-feel like I've been to two county fairs and a goat whoopin
-don't go there
-I've got a good memory, but it's short
-champagne taste on a beer salary
-want in one hand, shit in the other and see which gets filled first (I can't believe I left this one out this long, this is the by far the one I use more than any other)

-sometimes a cigar is just a cigar
-thanks for the memories from:

24/7 With the Cliche Expert


Between 1935 and 1952, the humorist Frank Sullivan wrote a series of essays for The New Yorker in which Mr. Arbuthnot, the cliche expert, testified on the trite expressions and hackneyed phrases of the day. Almost 50 years have passed since his last appearance, so it is clearly time for Mr. Arbuthnot to make a return appearance.

Q: Mr. Arbuthnot, since your last testimony, have you continued to follow the world of cliches?

A: I'm all over it, 24/7.

Q: I beg your indulgence, but since it has been so long since you have made a public appearance, would you mind answering a few questions to establish your expertise?

A: Whassup with that? Sorry if I've got that deer-in-the-headlights look, but I'm shocked, shocked. Here's my deal: I'm a world-class talking head. I've made my bones and I've got all my bona fides. When you chatted me up about this, you didn't give me a heads up that I had to reinvent myself.

Q: Again, I apologize, but I am merely following the charter of this committee.

A: Whatever.

Q: All right. I shall give you a series of nouns, and you supply the adjective that Homerically must precede each one. Are you ready?

A: As I'll ever be.

Q: Competition is?

A: Fierce.

Q: And any success?

A: Unqualified.

Q: Agendas, endorsements, margins, bases, sources, the future, arguments, potential, waters, efforts, and breath?

A: Hidden, key, slim (or overwhelming), continuing, knowledgeable, foreseeable, heated, full, uncharted, Herculean, and bated. Bada bing! I may not be the flavor of the month, but I'm on a roll.

Q: You certainly are, and you will clearly be a valuable witness for our committee.

A: Sweet. And I'm sorry for going postal a minute ago. I promise I won't be high maintenance. With all the media here, I can see where this could be a win-win. Besides, I want to give something back.

Q: Let me start the questioning with this: Have you noticed any new cliches recently?

A: Big time. Bottom line: Arguably, this is the cliche's 15 minutes.

Q: Let's back up a minute. What people have you been observing?

A: The American people.

Q: Could you be more specific?

A: Not a problem. I'm talking boomers, Gen X, 20-somethings, foodies, techies, netizens, fashionistas, suits, the flyover people, bean-counters, the punditocracy, eye candy, A-list directors, midlist authors, the usual suspects, swing voters, the beleaguered middle class, the special interests, stay-at-home moms, feminazis, hotties, angry white males, mental-health professionals, yellow-dog Democrats, high-priced lawyers, the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, the language police, and the glitterati.

Q: Anybody else?

A: Sorry -- senior moment. The Greatest Generation. And that's my final answer :)

Q: Which field of endeavor would you say is most guilty of the perpetration of cliches?

A: Hel-LO??? Let me run these by you: He brought his A-game. He has to step up. A warrior. At this level. X's and O's. A player's coach. They are struggling. A go-to guy. Let the game come to him. Stay within himself. Wake-up call. Gut check. In the zone. Feeling it. Got all of it. Lighting it up. Great tools. A stud.

Q: Oh, I see, you're talking about sports. I love it when they say, "He came to play." What else would he have come for?

A: That is so over. Stick a fork in it.

Q: Sarcasm does not become you, Mr. Arbuthnot.

A: My bad -- I didn't mean to be snarky. Btw, not to play the race card, but the fact of the matter is that the new new thing in cliches, if you will, would have to be homeboy wannabes who try to talk the talk.

Q: Can you give me a frinstance?

A: You go, girlfriend. Back in the day, we had it going on. It was old school in the 'hood -- we were keeping it real. Don't diss that playa -- show him some love, or I'll hit you upside the head. Yo, what it is, kna-mean?

Q: You don't think that appropriating the vernacular allows the language to regenerate itself?

A: Please.

Q: What about the business world?

A: Don't even go there. From the bricks and mortars to Silicon Alley, it's the same old same old. The stretch goal du jour is re-engineering result-driven, on-demand, top-down (and bottom-up) global systems, growing the bandwidth and the brand, leveraging the knowledge base, and fast-tracking proactive, strategic, and backward-compatible multitasking -- all without reinventing the wheel. Are we on the same page?

Q: To be sure. Mr. Arbuthnot, permit me to, as they say, cut to the chase. What, exactly, is wrong with cliches? After all, they wouldn't have become cliches if they weren't very good at communicating certain ideas. So why do the language police get all hot and bothered about them?

A: So you want to open up that can of worms, do you? You're moving the goal posts -- all this heavy lifting wasn't in the job description. But not to worry. I'm okay with taking one for the team. This might help some gravitas rub off on me, too.

But I digress. I'm going to go ahead and dumb down the back story. When you reference cliches, the poster boy -- the 800-pound Dead White Male, as it were -- is the fabulous George Orwell, the late, great iconic pundit. In his canonical text "Politics and the English Language" (which is still state of the art, imho) Orwell famously spin-doctored the issue in terms of the life span of figures of speech. Take "Achilles' heel" (please). The first writer to use this phrase to mean a person's or institution's weak point, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in 1810, and he was creating a fresh metaphor. Orwell's response to the Cole-ster -- and to anyone expressing an idea in an original, clever, striking, unexpected, vivid and/or amusing way, like the person who coined Silicon Valley, or Silicon Alley, or who first said "cut to the chase" about a noncinematic subject, or even who first applied quotes from commercials, Seinfeld, or Saturday Night Live in other contexts -- would be, "You da man."

After a long while, a popular figure of speech becomes a dead metaphor, which means it "has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness." I.e., it's all good. This is certainly true of Achilles' heel, and probably also of a more recent coinage like Silicon Valley, which can be excused for another reason: It effectively describes an entity for which there is no other word or brief phrase.

The trouble is in between. For a century or so, Achilles' heel was a trite, hackneyed, pawed-over catch phrase -- and these are what we talk about when we talk about cliches. Orwell described the villain of the piece as "the huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves."

Word, that was the money shot. I'm running late, and my gut feeling is that pretty soon I'm going to start channeling William Safire.

Q: Fine, fine. You've been most helpful. Thank you for speaking with us, Mr. Arbuthnot.

A: Thank you. Have a good one.

Ben Yagoda is a professor of English at the University of Delaware and the author of About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made (Scribner, 2000). [from the Chronicle of Higher Education].

Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to unring a bell.
Shana Alexander

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