Alexandre Kimenyi

The Cliché Paradox
Alexandre Kimenyi

Clichés have both the yin and yang features. They can be food but also toxin for the mind. Since they already contain preconceived ideas, they can affect people's way of thinking, leading them to cliché thinking instead of critical thinking thus treating myths for realities and stereotypes for prototypes. Despite this, however, clichés play a very important role in facilitating communication, in preserving collective memory and are very crucial in the cognitive process.
The study of clichés clearly shows not only the overabundance of "prepackaged ideas" but also that the lexicon and not the syntactic structure occupies a more central position in the mental landscape. Over the last four decades, syntax has received more attention in theoretical linguistics than other branches of linguistics such as phonology, morphology and semantics because it was thought to offer more insight into the mental cognitive structure. In reality, the lexicon seems to be more prominent as evidenced by the use of pidgins in which people are able to communicate and understand each other even if sentence structures are rudimentary or ungrammatical. The existence of clichés thus argues very strongly for the lexicalist hypothesis over the transformationalist hypothesis. Since syntactic rules are very minimal, clearly the heavy burden in cognition is on the lexicon. There are many complex structures which don't belong to syntax but are already part and parcel of the lexicon. Clichés are thus the semantic structures' building blocks differing in shape, size and solidity which explains why some are more popular, have a longer longevity or die out fast. A systemic and systematic analysis of the formal and functional properties of clichés finds that they are used because they require less effort to be remembered, this due to the use of mnemonic devices such as redundancy, rhymes, rhythm and metaphors.
The article is organized as follows: The first section shows that clichés have distinctive formal and semantic features which were previously unknown to linguists. Section two discusses the origin of clichés and shows that their sources are very diverse.
Section three shows that the majority of clichés are metaphors and illustrates their crucial role in cognition.
Section four explains why mainstream linguistics has neglected the study of metaphors and why it should give them the attention that they rightly deserve.
Section five gives some examples which show the toxicity of clichés to the mind.
The last section shows how clichés as metaphors are responsible for collective memory and identity, give insight into how the mind works, make complex concepts understandable and relieve space for memory storage and retrieval.

A cliché is a linguistic expression which is overused. Although the majority of these already made structures are phrases and even complete sentences, single words also such as nirvana 'paradise', mantra 'slogan/leitmotif', Mecca 'a tourist a place that attracts people who share the same interest', guru 'expert' ,morph 'transform/change', to compartmentalize, to underscore …occur as clichés because of this overuse. In the academic circles, narrative, to debunk the myth, to be at the cutting edge, paradigm shift are very popular right now. In the news to day, weapons of mass destruction, breeding grounds for terrorism, to break the rules of engagement , road map, the fog of war, exit strategy, outsourcing, to metastasize into, Schadenfreude… are used almost everyday.

Background to the project:

When I started the study of clichés I didn't know that they were going to have any value to linguistic theory or offer insight into the study of mind. In their essays, my students were using a lot of them partly due to the fact that some sentences were leafed verbatim from the internet or other publications. As a concerned teacher I wanted my students to use their own words and use critical thinking. What shocked me also was the fact that the language mavens, journalists and book and art reviewers were using clichés as well. Thus all good books are a breath of fresh air, a good play or concert is a coup de force or virtuoso performance, a good wine has personality, complexity and character, etc. That is how I started a crusade to hunt them down and collect them and give them to students so that they don't use them in their essays anymore. These enemies that I passionately hated, ended up becoming my friends. This is now a major chapter on my book on metaphors.
These clichés have been collected from the New York Times over a period of four years and looked up in the search engine, Google, to check their frequency. For instance, the internet search of the cliché we stand on the shoulders of giants used in political speeches found 1,950,000 cases, something is rotten in the state of such as something is rotten in the state of California or something is rotten in the state of California or something is rotten in the state of higher education came up with 3,020, 000 results , if it walks like a duck, quarks like a duck, looks like a duck then it must be a duck used mostly by politicians to mock their colleagues has 51,300 entries. This chapter should not be considered as a dictionary of clichés and it is the reason why they have not been listed alphabetically or explained. A generous body of examples are provided to convince doubters how important they are in everyday language use and in mental processes.

I. The Structure of Clichés.

At first glance, clichés don't seem to have any particular formal property because they occur in any style from the prosaic to the poetic in any type of structure as simple nouns, full sentences, verb phrases, noun phrases, adverbial phrases, prepositional phrases, etc. This also might explain why thed did attract interest from linguists.

Full sentences clichés:

You know what I mean, there is trouble brewing, there is something in the wind, there is/was no love lost between them, it is nothing to boast about, it is not worth the paper it is written on, there is more in it that meets the eye, it is not an open secret, that goes without saying, there is no doubt in my mind, X died on the line of duty, what you see is what you get, the rest is history, days are numbered, it is simple as that, I could hardly believe my eyes, a little bird told me, one thing led to another, the bill sailed through the senate floor, the helicopters combed the mountain looking for X, the stakes are high, now let's go down to business, it was like manna from heaven, the ball is in your court, it was love on the first sight, s/he was somebody who couldn't hurt a fly, X needs no introduction, there are other fish in the sea, time will tell, the time stood still, it doesn't ring a bell, the genie is out of the bottle, it is easier said than done, it seems like it is the right thing to do, facts speak for themselves, time is ripe, the poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus X percentage points, the sky is the limit, it remains to be seen, the emperor/king has no clothes, something gets/got lost in the translation, the hell has broken loose, X doesn't hold water, X is a hard sale, it is too good to be true, enough is enough, it's a jungle out there, history is repeating itself, we have lost the battle we have not lost the war, silence is golden, it's a totally different ball game, so far so good, it's an open question, it's a long way to go, there is no free lunch, money talks, imitation is the sincerest way of flattery , X is not rocket science, you don't have to have a rocket scientist, the beauty is the of he beholder, it is still anybody´s guess, it was love at first sight, the investigation suffered from lack of resources, the death toll climbed/rose, the case is pending, names of victims were not being released because many family members had not been notified, X will not be the same, it was an easy feast, emotions are running high, there is something in the air, X is anybody's guess, the fighting broke out, the rest is history, X should come as no surprise, East meets West, nothing is set in stone, the war broke out between X and Y, there is a hitch, , a picture is worth a thousand words., X are from Mars and Y are from Venus, there are no easy answers, no man is an island, history repeats itself, the talk is cheap, it's business as usual, it's a no-brainer, no love is lost between X and Y, it's a dream come true, the buck stops here, if truth be told, these are no laughing matters, let's go down to business, the road to heaven is filled with good intentions, X is here to stay, patience is wearing thin, chickens are coming home to roost , you ain't seen nothing yet, don't get me wrong, it's the dream come true, extraordinary times (situations) call for extraordinary measures (solutions), there is no question in my mind , the time is ripe, tomorrow is another day, let's wait and see, God knows only what , all hell broke loose, they are two sides of the same coin, there is another side to the coin, the X clock is ticking, X's heart goes to Y, first things first, truth is the first casualty of war, the list goes on, the lord works in mysterious ways, time is of the essence, it is an idea whose time has come, time heals, let's put it this way, it's too early to tell, you can't get your cake and eat it too, it's no big deal, that is out of the question., X never ceases to amaze me, X is here to stay, there is no free ride/lunch, it was a poor choice of words, it was stupid; it is a fair game, the heads are going to start rolling, the day/night is still young, X is a testament to Y, X is another case in point, thanks but no thanks, everything is up in the air, wake up and smell the coffee, nothing succeeds like success, the case is still pending, it's not over until it's over, it's a match made in haven, legend has it , it's too good to be true, X is my middle name, here we go again, life imitates art, the point is well taken, it's a different ballgame, thank(s) for asking, nothing could be further from the truth, it's no small feat, X could not be reached for comment, the worst is yet to come, so far so good, nothing could be further from the truth, the pendulum swung from X to Y, put up or shut up, will the real X please stand up, there is a bumpy road ahead, there is still a long way to go, there is there there, what goes around comes around, you get the picture, I am so hungry I could eat a horse, nothing would ever be the same again, legend has it that X, X is here to stay, X was somebody who would not hurt a fly, it couldn't haved been further from the truth, let's face it, that/it remains to be seen, histories are written by the winners, absolute power corrupts absolutely, that was then. the hell broke loose, there you go, that's the bottom line, the truth will set you free, there is a thin line between X and Y, X pales in comparison to Y, nothing was/is/will be lost in translation, it is a world s/he/they knew too well, that's only half the story, it's plain and simple, the situation is spinning out of control, it's an idea whose time has come, history is written by victors, X is not getting any younger, are you out of your mind?, to hell with it, it's X whose time has come, the silence was so thick that you could cut it, one picture is worth a thousand words , it's beyond anybody's wildest dreams, there is (no) sight at the end of the tunnel, he married his high-school sweetheart, it's business as usual, let the chips fall where they may, sound familiar?, it's as simple as that/it is that simple, God works in mysterious ways, the ends justify the means, the buck stops at X, victory grows out the barrel of the gun, stay tuned, X is around the corner, let me put it this way, hasta la vista,baby, money talks, if you've got one X you've got them all, there are no easy answers,that's the million-dollar question, excuse the cliché, …and bingo!, the catch?, the running joke is X, there is (no) elephant in the room., what's good for X is good for Y; when X gets a cold , Y gets pneumonia,. the difference is more a matter of style than of substance; no way Jose, patience is wearing thin, X is not worth the paper it is written on, similarities don't end there, you get the idea, don't even think about it, X is a metaphor for Y, X is Y's middle name, if you are going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk, Rome was not built in one day, there is no time like the present, time heals all wounds, better later than never, there is no place like home, money doesn't grow on trees, money makes the world go round, money doesn't bring happiness, what goes around comes around, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, don't pee on me and tell me it's raining, the buck stops here, there's no such a thing as a free lunch, you cannot have your cake and eat it too, legend has it that S, it's much a a do about nothing, nothing is carved in stone, it was the final straw that S, X is on the horizon, different circumstances requrire new methods/tactics., X is an inexact science, it doesn't work that way, there's no love lost between X and Y, X and Y are day and night, th emperor doesn't have any clothes, X was/is out of the question, the winds of change are sweeping the world, it is only part of the picture, you are the Man


Mad as hops, mad as a wet hen, mad as hell, neat as bandbox, clear as a whistle, cool as cucumber, right as rain, tight as the bark on a tree, plain as pikestaff, deaf as an adder, flat as a pancake, poor as a church mouse, to sell like hotcakes, as American as apple pie, to be as nasty as one comes. to sound like a broken record, free as a bird, to be as secret as the formula of Coca Cola, to be tough as nails..

Verb phrases

to be on a higher moral ground, to be up for grabs, to open the window, to leave the door open, to kill the bill , to tighten the noose (around the neck), to send shock waves, to leave (no) room, to keep at arm's length, to drop the other shoe, to take matters into one's hands, to send chills running down the spine, to be down to earth, to be off in the clouds, to be behind bars, to leave no stone unturned, to know which way the wind blows, to follow suit, to get/jump on X bandwagon, to pass the hat, to be born with a silver spoon in one's mouth, to make one's mouth water, to make oneself scarce, to make one's blood boil, to make ends meet, to be lulled to false sense of security, to look facts in the face, to cry wolf, to rock the boat, to show one's true colors, to start from scratch, to hatch a plan/a scheme, to have a short/long shelf life, to fade away from memory, to offer another piece to the puzzle, to hold the key, to have second thoughts., to fly in the face of, to blow out of proportion, to float/entertain an idea, to land a job/role, to pick a fight, to push the boundaries, to push the envelope, to kill the messenger, to touch delicate nerves, to flatly deny/reject, to unleash violence, to reign supreme, to add a strange twist to the tale, to make a long story short.. to gather/gain momentum, to wear X as a badge of honor, to set the record straight, to know full well. to set a bad/dangerous precedent, to make X an offer s/he cannot refuse, to develop the sixth sense, to use X as a whipping boy, to mix business with pleasure, to be confined in the dustbin of history, to give credit where credit is due, to be at an all-time high, to dwell on the past, to crack (self-deprecating) jokes , to sacrifice X to the altar of Y, to circle the square, to make front page news, to have a skeleton in the closet, to slip through the cracks, to X under the table, to stand on the shoulders of giants, to sink into oblivion, not to take no for an answer , to cut a long story short, to live in a parallel universe, to give X one's best shot, to let the genie out of the bottle, to pay a debt to society, to rise through the ranks, to bet one's two cents.

Noun Phrases

NN or AdjN

Exhibit A, plan B, paper trail, face value, pipe dream, zero tolerance, a shelf life, encyclopedic knowledge, a walking encyclopedia, a good Samaritan, umbrella organization, red herring, big shot, fat cat, a hot potato, a stirring controversy, black sheep, hit list, trump card, the conventional wisdom, sluggish economy, young Turks, circumstantial evidence , moral bankruptcy, a judgment call, a one-night stand, double standards, radar screen, political spectrum, twilight zone, patron saint, sugar daddy, salad days, landmark decision, bench mark, a foregone conclusion, legal limbo, motivational speaker, a dream house, wee hours, a hard sell, a basket case, a wake-up call, uncharted territory, a moot point, the missing link, collective memory/unconscious, joy ride, white elephant, to be caught flat-footed, point blank, telltale sign, maiden voyage, a law-abiding citizen, knee-jerk reaction, a vibrant economy, wishful thinking, zero-sum game, rampant/entrenched corruption, fever pitch, vigilante justice, maverick politician, mercurial leader, bruised ego, a straw man argument, a living symbol, the inner circle, exit strategy, vigilante justice, a twilight zone, a tough sell, rhetorical question, erratic behavior, social commentary, sublimal message, formative years, close-knit community, abject poverty, big question, a stiff sentence, a missed opportunity, career trajectory, a high school sweetheart, a tough sale, track record, soft spot, a resounding no, banana republic, a shining example, open/closed society, thinning air, a fresh look, a pea size X, life size, gag order, a ragtag army, a cheap shot, a flash point, reality check, a rhetorical question, a defining moment, a sleepy town, the old guard, a straight arrow, moral relativism, identity crisis, power vacuum, an umbrella organization, a rosy picture, ivory tower, mood swings, a bruised ego, a landmark decision, window dressing, cosmetic changes, a status symbol, a conspiracy theory, a last-ditch effort/attempt, a golden age, glory days, a basket case, a color-blind society, a subliminal message, a rocky start/beginning, loose change, a leathery face, a cavalier attitude ,a silent majority, an unsung hero, an elder statesman, a cottage industry, the puzzle missing piece , a freak accident, swing voters, an exit strategy, a laundry list, a time-honored X, a card-carrying member of X, a has-been X, young urban professionals, a watchdog group, an intricate web, abject poverty , an acquired test, a twilight zone, gut feeling, an absent-minded professor, a midlife crisis, a kitchen cabinet , a knee-jerk reaction, an occupational hazard, in the good old days, a seven-figure salary, for an undisclosed sum, an educated guess, an acquired taste, a struggling artist, a symbiotic relationship, one night stand, seed money, business acumen, moral compass, punishing weather/temperature, spiritual journey…


a chain of events/command,, the grapes of wrath, a jack of all trades, the call of nature, a piece of the pie, a thing of the past, rules of engagement, the survival of the fittest, the swing of the pendulum, a breath of fresh air, the winds of change, the corridors of power, the halls of the academe, a train of thought, a highly respected member of the community, center of gravity, a memorandum of understanding, the framers of the constitution, a change of heart , a clash of civilization, a culture of impunity, miscarriage of justice, a butt of jokes, a sphere of influence, a frame of reference, a leap of faith, the fog of war, the leader of the free world, a comedy of errors.

A closer look, however, reveals something different. Like proverbs, some clichés. use poetic devices such as sound repetition, meter, rhyme and rhythm. The ones that are shown below use consonant repetition as a rich body of examples illustrate:

Troubled/turbulent/tumultuous/trying/tough/trying times, sunny skies, towering task, mighty mountain, military might, military muscle, rave reviews, wet winters, sweet sixteen, pet project, epic proportion, sorry state, sexy senior citizen, full force, a feminine feel, high hopes, bloody business, to be on a collision course, crash course, position paper, bad blood, barroom brawl, bare bones, pitch perfect, added advantage, vested interest, the wild west, the whole wide world, bully pulpit, , to stand in stark contrast, stony silence, feeding frenzy, double-digit inflation, father figure, building blocks, polar opposite, star-studded, bursting bubbles, express purpose ,slippery slope, baby boomers, a stepping stone, peak performance, public policy, partisan politics , free flow, peer pressure, pencil pusher, hard-hat, beer-belly, blood bath, family feud, proud parents, worldly wisdom, big business, to fan fears, midsummer madness, a brisk breeze, helping hand, temper tantrum, street-smart, road rage, beast of burden, sordid sex scandal, propaganda ploy, fist fight, a sorry sight, be caught flat-footed, mild-mannered, far-fetched, far-flung, star-struck, fatally flawed, to make a mountain out of a molehill, to shrug shoulders, to make amends, make no mistakes, to agree to disagree, to be larger than life, to pay the price, to forgive but not forget, to sail the seven seas, to compound problems, to loom large, to wage war, to bear the brunt, to hope against hope, to set in stone, to set the stage, to become the talkt of the town, to be waiting in the wings, to fan the flames, to pull the plug, to dig deep, to set off the storm, to take the world by the storm, to be in deep debt, to set off a storm, to pull punches, to pinch pennies, to rob Peter to pay Paul, to pay the piper, to pick up pieces, to put your money where your mouth is, to go to the dogs, in the belly of the beast, , in the wee hours, to add fuel to the fire, not to mince matters, to put pen to paper, to wend one's way, to hammer the point home, to beat about the bush, to have another fish to fry ,to rocket the ruckus, to stand the test of time, to hold one's head high, to go down the drain, to bring to the brink, talk turkey, to take the toll, code of conduct, words of wisdom, back to basics , to feel free to, the turn of the tide, the wings of the wind, cast of characters, a piece of the pie, close as a clam, when push comes to shove, derring-do, dry as dust, tempest in a teaspoon, all in all, the world will not willingly let die, fit as a fiddle, sure as shooting , to deal a deep blow, fast forward, a bully boy, to take to the streets, a dime a dozen, man's inhumanity to man, taxation without representation, to lend a helping hand, signed, sealed and delivered, a clarion call, rolling hills, sweet smell of success, eggshell ego, deadbeat dads, to stand sentry, to put two and two together, to fall flat, a tangled tale, sunny skies, melancholic melody, wailing walls, for practical purposes, Garden of Eden, a fertile field, war wary, to quell questions, in a split second, litmus test, a role reversal, a terror attack, to settle scores, to dig deep, to cut to the core, poison pill, a bitter battle, to stand for principles over political expediency, to hit home, the ticking of time, poor performance, to stand in stark contrast, to put profit before the people, cash cows , to let go of one's ego, dying days of colonialism, to take the town by the storm, to go into free fall, to put up a smoke screen, a penny pincher, to run rampant, to run errands, a chorus of critics, a sorry state, mutatis mutandis, to gain ground, cause for concern, a success story, to stand in sharp contrast, a siren song, pen pal, the blame game, to ruffle feathers, from rags to riches, from dusk to dawn, an entrepreneurial enterprise, to be in full flowers, to stand the challenges of a changing world , the magic of the moment, purple prose, a pulse-pounding prose,sound asleep, to be the name of the game, from the prosaic to the poetic, a subliminal stimulus, a disastrous disaster, to have a knack for being at the door when opportunity knocks, vice than a virtue, nature versus nurture, a raucous caucus, whimsical wit, to ponder a problem, to stand still, to sit still, to be tart-tongued, time tested, penny wise but pound foolish, to tackle a task., chump change, to put a pen to the pad, sleepy summer seasons, robber baron, draft dodge, stump speech, to blur boundaries, to swear like a sailor, sound of silence, to take another twist, to take a heavy toll, to take to task, deadbeat dad, too little too late, nigthtime is the right time..

The following binomial expressions and reduplicated forms were discussed in Kimenyi ( ) as examples of syntagmatic phonetic iconicity.

Battered and bruised, boom and doom, boon and bust, huffing and bluffing, huffing and puffing, tried and true, to wax and wane, free and fair, death and destruction, out of all scotch and notch, play ducks and drakes with, thread and thrum, left high and dry, to go to rack and ruin, odds and ends, bread and butter, spick and span, fuss and feathers, discuss birds and bees, down and dirty, between the devil and the deep blue sea, by hook and by crook, high days and holidays, to hum and haw, kith and kin, last but not least, with all might and maim, to sink or swim, wishy-washy, to publish or perish, in times of stress and strain, neither hide nor hair, without rhyme or reason, part and parcel, the sum and substance, fauna and flora, friends and foes, from tip to tail, to act as judge and jury, trials and tribulations, wild and wooly, prunes and prisms, come hell or high water, in the dim and distant past, to wine and dine, make fish of one and flesh of another, plain as a pikestaff and prisms, to ooh and aah, flotsam and jetsam, hugger-mugger, loosey-goosey, concise and precise, the best and the brightest, the last but not the least, hodgepodge, mishmash, hanky-panky, hocus-pocus, itsy-bitsy, every twist and turn, to fuss and fume, a down-and-dirty job, to weather a gathering storm., to litter and glitter, do or die, scope and scale, boom and bust, to hustle and bustle, to coddle and cuddle, the arts and the crafts, command and control, scale and scope, checks and balances, you put up or you shut up, slowly but surely, the lore and lure, dribs and drabs, the scale and the scope, to be both judge and jury, dilapidation and decay, .to collude and collide, rags-to-riches success, style and substance, lean and mean, manner and mien , zero and zilch, remote and removed, to transmit and transmut, flailties and foibles, by omission and commission, glitz and glamour, nature-nurture debate, to falter and fail, odds and ends, sham and shame, bland and blunt, between and betwixt, to flare and fade, the bling and the bliss, the young and yearning, to be blocked and blockaded, to huff and puff, to slice and dice, the sacred and the secular, surf and turf , the bits and bytes, revolutionary and revelatory , brunt and brawny, habitats and habits, to sample and savor, to flit and filter , power and privilege, angst and anger, brainy and brawny, prophets of gloom and doom, lore and gore, plander and pundering, (an era of) change and challenge, flashy and fleshy, fuzzy-wuzzy, hominy and homilies, charm and chutzpah, , to sniff, sip and and spit, sobs and slaps, all vim and vigor, with nerve and verve, anger and anguish, lean and lethal, slicing and dicing, peculiar and particular, cheeky and cheerful, minutely and meticulously,to hoot and holler, to rant and rave, cheers and jeers, the lore and lure, in tone and tempo, vice and virtue, wary and weary, fears and fixations, whim and whimper..

Paired expressions

By leaps and bounds, ins and outs, to dot one's i's and cross one's t's, land of milk and honey, the rank and file, to leave high and dry, a give and take, far and wide, fair and square, each and every, to fight foot and nail, to mind one's q's and p's, to all intents and purposes, body and soul, on pins and needles, in black and white, to play fast and loose, checks and balances, bits and pieces, movers and shakers, time and time again, in this day and age, betwixt and between, a joy and delight, to follow the spirit and the letter of, to move heaven and earth, to be neck and neck, when all is said and done, to come in all shapes and sizes, cock and bull stories, to win hearts and minds, a chicken-and-egg question/puzzle, time and again, by and large, once and for all, lo and behold, rough and tumble, aiding and abetting, to be alive and kicking, better late than sorry, all nooks and crannies, nuts and bolts, to cut and paste, (a widening gulf between) the haves and the have-nots, on-again-off-again relationship, to wait and see, to say it loud and clear, to wear and tear, salt-and-pepper hair/beard, to ebb and flow, by trial and error, facts and figures, to play hide and seek, the ups and downs, hide and seek, to see in black and white, the rise and fall of empire, the breadth and depth of, up and down, back and forth, on and off, to weigh the pros and the cons, pump and circumstance, pure and simple, literally and figuratively, to be eyes and ears, through trial and error, to play cat and mouse, in fits and starts, approach/strategy, the fits and the starts, at home and abroad, from now and then to be sick and tired, with pomp and circumstance/pageantly, a day in and a day out, hawks and doves, the letter and the spirit of, the land of milk and honey, a charts-and-graphs presentation ,to be sick and tired, null and void ,an either or proposition, speedy and full recovery, the rise and fall of X , in ways large and small, the ins and outs, in ways large and small, pop-and-mom businesses, cloaks and daggers, , a cat-and-mouse game, pros and cons, a cock-and-bull story, to rain cats and dogs, wild and crazy, the hue and cry, hit-and-run accident, the ins-and-outs of, to, to cut and run, to be up and running, the pros and cons, average Joe and Jane, to shock and awe, a land of milk and honey, to be straight and narrow, a heart of gold and a will of steel, to offer sticks and carrots, to be night and day, to compare apples and oranges, political longstanding and mudslinging, wheeling and dealing, the heart and soul of, on a wing and a prayer, a nickle-and-dime X, from cradle to grave, wear and tear, rain or shine ….

The use of rhythm, rhyme is universal and found in all languages when it has to do with cliches, proverbs, slogans , commercials, bumper stickers, headline news as the following ones from Latin, Italian and French show:
homo homine lupus (man is a wolf to a man), urbi and orbi (to the city (Rome) and the to world) an expression the Vatican uses when addressing the Catholic Church community, traduttore traditore (the translator is a traitor), le droit de sang et le droit du sol (right of blood and right of soil) meaning rights due to French citizens due to birth on the French soil and French parents.

The following are special because the qualifying adjective follows the head noun.

Rock solid, lily white, crystal clear, sky high, snow white, razor/paper thin, skin deep, midnight/ocean/navy/sky blue, power hungry, poverty stricken, medium rare,time-tested, shell shocked, heir apparent, user friendly, trigger happy, drug free, prince charming, body politic .

Redundancy, paradox, contrast, synonymy, emphasis, paraphrase, play on words and other rhetorical devices can also make a phrase a cliché, as the following examples show.

Good evil, loud colors, a deafening silence, a noisy silence, poetic justice, more often than not, second to none, to know a great thing when one sees it, all things being equal, in less than no time, untold advantages, to be one's worst enemy, an accident waiting to happen, to take on a life of one's own, to mean well, honest mistake, a case of mistaken identity, to tell it like it is, an offer you cannot refuse, to beg to differ, to agree to disagree, to agree without being disagreeable, to call a spade a spade, zero tolerance, the sum total, root cause, the tail end, the end result/product, sum total, to up the ante, rear end, weapons of mass destruction, if the truth be told, to give the benefit of the doubt, to make an offer one cannot refuse, to talk the talk and to walk the walk, under the watchful eye of, to draw to a close, through word of mouth, the first/last leg of X's journey, spitting image, verbal diarrhea, intellectual masturbation, to win/lose thebattle not the war, there is no there there, to out-X X ( out-google Google), the beginning of the end, a six-figure salary, to thumb the nose, to weather the storm., to know next to nothing, to be catch as catch can, man's inhumanity to man, the more things change the more they remain the same, to spell trouble/disaster, to cook books ..

What makes clichés stand out, however, are not the type of syntactic structure they occur in but rather the types of metaphors that are used. The majority of clichés consist indeed of metaphors. These ones are more vivid, graphic and picturesque.

II. The use of metaphors

One of the ways expressions become clichés is the presence of metaphors and metonymies which draw attention such as hyperboles using superlatives and diminutives.

A rising star, meteoric rise, to go ballistic, the business empire, the media tycoon/mogul, the drug barons, the oil dynasty, basketball superstar, drug czar, astronomical figure, monumental/colossal task, sea change, mammoth debt, the corporate giant, a giant corporation, a multi-million X empire, the king of rock and roll, a film goddess, a welfare queen, business titan, a war zone, cutthroat struggle, heaven on earth, stratospheric ascent, a media behemoth, sky high ,a needle in the haystack, to sink low, gold mine, a swollen ego, to grow/increase exponentially, to inflate one's ego, to lay to rest, to sound the alarmt, something earthshakingly important, to trim the budget, character assassination, to dig one's own grave, to steal somebody's heart, to be out of one's mind, an island of X in a sea of Y/an X island in a Y sea, to sit on a gold mine,a snake-oil salesmanto offer the sun and the moon, a dog-eat-dog worldloan sharks, vulture investors, thunderous roars, a gazillion times, to spread the tentacles,a world-class X, filthy rich, to make baby steps, to skate on thin ice, a razor/paper thin victory, , a drop in the bucket, X is a death sentence, to live in parallel universes, a marathon session, a million-dollar smile, that's a $64,000 question, to eat somebody alive, to stab somebody in the back, a calamity/disaster of biblical proportions, a train reck, political roller coaster, to hijack a political process/agenda… etc.


to go to each other's throat, to gouge each other's eyes out, to walk on eggshells, to drive off the cliff (into something totally different), to run around with one's hair on fire, to launch somebody into orbit, to spin one's wheels in X, everybody's jaws dropped, to cut the silence with a knife, skyrocketing prices, galloping inflation, ballooning budgetary deficit, to explode with rage, to laugh one's head off, to declare war, to unleash wrath, , to take a quantum leap, to hang by the thread, to walk on tightrope , to take the plunge, to open X floodgates, screaming ties, to be caught with the pants down, don't pee on me and pretend it's raining. .

Thus political changes or scandals are described using natural disaster metaphors:

winds of change, landslide victory, slippery slope, to open political floodgates, to stem political tide, political earthquake/tornado/hurricane//rainstorms/snowstorm/tsunami/twister/avalanche/tempest/cyclone/floodwaters/deluge/windfall, to stir (up) a political thunderstorm, to ignite political firestorms, seismic shift, earth-shaking X, an ideological firestorm, a rising tide of troubles, a swelling sea of troubles.

The following follow the same principle. The exaggeration shown by superlatives or diminutives as well as expressions which use a vivid description are found in many of the majority of clichés listed below.

to climb the social ladder, self-fulfilling prophecy, to take a fresh look, to be hell bent, to be filled to capacity, deep-seated, last-ditch effort, a textbook case, to be a music to the ear, all walks of life, to be the name of the game, hermetically sealed, Alice in the wonderland, in the dead of night, to have a name recognition, sibling rivalry, catalyst for change, to scoff at the idea, lesser evil, tender age, at the 11th hour, a gentlemen's agreement, to be fair game, the beginning of an end, to eat one's heart out, a dream word/house/team, by any stretch of the imagination, soul searching, to have a domino effect, celebrity craze, to brainstorm, to streamline, to cut a long story short, to draw the line (in the sand), rebel without a cause, flat denial ,to walk a tightrope, to fish in troubled waters, from A to Z, to throw one's weight behind X, to make strange bedfellows, to give somebody the cold shoulder, to be hand in glove with, a wolf in a sheep's clothing, to take by storm, to stem the tide, to pull the strings, to be one's worst enemy, on the tip of one's tongue, to hold out an olive branch, of that ilk, to tie the knot, not without reason, nothing to boast about, not what you would call, to have a face lift, to be murdered in cold blood, much ado about nothing, to do more harm than good, the mark of the beast, to mastermind, the long arm of the law, to let the cat out of the bag, not to let the grass grow under one's feet, to lend an ear, to lead a dog's life, with the stroke of a pen, to gather dust, to be a good sport, to get into a shouting match, to fall on deaf ears, to be very high on the agenda, jet-setting, to have the upper hand, to teeter on the brink of, to exercize poor judgment, foregone conclusion, body politic, twisted logic, to speak volumes, love at first sight, to disappear into thin air, against incredible odds, to breathe a sigh relief, a leap into the unknown ,to be set in motion, to give a shot in the arm, to come home to roost, to set the record straight, to blur the lines, to dismiss out of hand, to become a hotbed to, a new wrinkle, simply put, a package deal, over the hill, like a cat on hot tin roof, to give a rubber stamp, thumbs up, devil's advocate, to up the ante, from the horse's mouth, earmarked, a cliff-hanger, to beef up, to gear up, to get one's foot in the door, a clean slate, to go off on the right foot, get to first base, to pick up the pieces, to pick up the threads, to hit the nail on the head, to stand on the shoulders of giants, at daggers drawn/drawing, hell on wheels, to make no bones about it, straight from the shoulder, to call one's shots, to cut the mustard, up for grabs, to have scores to settle, to be a case in point, to make somebody sick to the stomach, damaged goods, to address X head on, to seem mild by comparison, to stop short of X-ing, take a deep breath, to be music to the ears, count to ten, whitewash, sweep under the carpet, come to grips with, face the music, a far cry, at loose ends, hand in glove, pot belly, highway robbery, cold feet, five-finger, jailbird, the last straw that broke the camel's back, eavesdropper, a fly on the wall, to shake the dust from one's feet, to hang on somebody's sleeve, in the wind, a hard nut to crack, hard row to hoe, underdog, grass roots, lose the thread, black sheep, hit list, pull strings, to have many strikes against somebody, steep nose dive, to view with deep suspicion, to sink one's teeth into, to X round-the-clock,a round-the-clock X, to hold somebody responsible, once in a while, upscale/gated community, under somebody's thumb, to cry wolf, window dressing, gunboat diplomacy, to be tight-lipped, to poke fun at, to put back on track, to make a sharp right turn, to race against the clock, to jump-start, potluck, fast buck, golden years, hard evidence, to reach one's zenith, to poke one's nose into X's business, to burn the midnight oil, to start the wheel of, to offer red meat, kitchen cabinet, to carry a heavy load (of courses), to have a light schedule, ghost writer, to bite off more than once can chew, to spread oneself thin, moonlighting, instant gratification, in the classic X tradition, task force, to speak with one single voice, to pick up the mess, if walls could talk, a firmly held belief, to send shock waves through, to receive a rock star's reception, sublimal messages, calm before the storm, halcyon days, second-class citizens, to hold one's ground, bigwig, to spill the beans, a drug czar, a drug kingpin, in the long run, cut it close, to hit the nail on the head, to be between a rock and a hard place, to be in deep water, to be in hot water, to put on the spot, to be in the pipeline, sprawling city, rampant corruption, to root out corruption, to throw one's weight behind, to fly in the face of, to remain true to X, the-one-size-fits-all X, to paint X with broad brsuh strokes, to bite the bullet, to have on the tip of one's tongue, to ring a bell, to be out of the woods, to clean one's act, a high school drop out, a high school sweetheart, reality television, room for change, since the dawn of humanity, to drive the point home, to send mixed signals, sour grapes, Russian roulette, to reinvent the wheel, to keep the flame alive, to pull the rug under somebody, to rule with an iron fist, egghead, highbrow, a skeleton in the closet, to dig one's grave, to paddle one's own canoe, yellow journalism, peeping Tom, run-of-the-mill, top billing, upper crust, to catch fire, to drop charges, to throw out the case, politically correct, guilty by association, to make both ends meet, to have the last laugh, to lend on one's feet, to turn up trumps, to keep one's fingers crossed, old wives' tale, be taken aback, to smell a rat, to shoot the breeze, verbal diarrhea, to hold at bay, to the bitter end, to stem the tide, to pull someone's leg, to keep a low profile, to hit below the belt, to drive up the wall, fall guy, god digger, guinea pig, , meager salary, a fat check account, to be on the ropes, to grease the wheels, if the past is any guide, to tell it like it is, to take under one's wings, not to take no as an answer, to weather storms,navel gazer, to have a bone to pick, to have an ax to grind, to hit a jackpot, a wild-goose chase, to square the circle, to blow a fuse, to blow off steam, to hit the ceiling/roof, slow burn, sacred cow, the cat calling the kettle black, to go overboard , to get a shot in the arm, to get/sink one's teeth into, to add insult to injury, to be in good hands, behind the scenes, cannot believe one's own eyes, beyond any (possible) shadow of doubt, to wear many hats, beneath contempt, born under a lucky sky, the old boys' network, to leave with a bad taste in the mouth, to be business as usual, by the same token, the best-case scenario, a back-up plan, to make a cameo appearance, by word of mouth, silent majority, foot soldiers, a dress rehersal, dark horse, to stand on the sidelines, to draw to a close, to be a blessing in disguise, a publicity stunt, to stay the course, to lift the embargo/economic sanctions, to have far-reaching effects, a flat denial, from the cradle to the grave, formative years, heavy burden (on the shoulders), to carry the cross, first-hand information, second-hand, on the other hand, on one hand, to seize the moment, to be a step ahead, to stretch as far as the eye can see, to miss/rock the boat, to entertain thoughts, a close-knit community, to deal a (heavy) blow, simply put, revolving door, glass ceiling, window of opportunity, publicity stunt, moral relativism, second-class citizen, blue collar, to eat one's heart out, to gain the ground, to drive the point home, to fall into place, a tired word, to give the devil his due, to pendulum-swing, to live a peripatetic life, to go to the extreme, a heated argument, historic occasion/moment, in a nutshell, a last ditch effort, to ride the wave, to kill in cold blood, in the heat of the moment, in the nick of time, to be in the public eye, to be in the same boat, in the twinkling of an eye, not one/a single iota, the lesser of two evils, guilty by association, to be a sign of the times, to be/play the devil's advocate, the lesser of two evils, to take a hands-on approach, to be/fall into the wrong hands, to keep one's eyes open, to keep one's mouth shut, to kill two birds with one stone, not to know somebody from Adam to Eve, to know full well, a law-abiding citizen, to leave much to be desired, not to have a leg to stand on, the soaring of mercury, a moot point, s/he is not what you would call, to hold out an olive branch, not to be on speaking terms, on more than one occasion, to have one foot in the grave, out of the blue, an outstanding figure, to play with fire, a four-letter word, forbidden fruit, rotten to the core, from all walks of life, great masters, to see red, to sell like hot cakes, to sell one's soul, to show one's teeth, to stab in the back, to take one's life in one's hands, to take the words out somebody's mouth, to be taken aback, to thirst for somebody's blood, to throw dust in somebody's eyes, to be torn asunder, untimely end, to welcome with open arms, to wear trousers, to vanish into thin air, to wash one's hand, to waste one's breath, a tip of the iceberg, the knight in the shining armor, to bring X to its knees, to bring X back to its feet, to come into focus, a sugar daddy, to start from scratch, to come up with, to pick up where one has left off, to cover a lot of territory, to pin down, to tip the balance, to bring to the negotiating table, sluggish economy, victory by the ballot not the bullet, turning point, in the first place, bear/bull market, to have close ties, cold war, to bite the bullet, persona non grata, pro bono, to serve a fig leaf, the chain of command, public discourse, to have certain misgivings, to take shape, to go to great lengths, record breaking, to pay lip service, in one's own right, to thumb one's nose, to give a hands-on experience, think tank, personality cult, to have a photographic memory, side effects, to break the ice, as is often the case, as dust settles, gentleman's agreement, quintessentially American, tame by comparison, to ring hollow, to keep in the dark, brainchild, a slap in the face, walking time bomb, against the backdrop of, room for improvement, room to maneuver, to show one's true colors, to be ahead of one's time, to be in full swing, a household name, colorful life, sweeping changes, driving force, keynote speaker, to take/be under the wing of, to draw a line, to be as American as pumpkin, spin doctor, to clear clean hands, to muddy waters, to be the name of the game, baking sun, high moral ground, to be down to earth, dashed hopes, media savvy, to name names, to pick the brains of, to get the genie out of the bottle, wishful thinking, mean street, to take on a life of one's own, to welcome with open eyes, odd couple, dysfunctional family, government mouthpiece, trouble-shooter, or for that matter, narrow-minded, loophole, to dim prospects, to break new ground, to make no bones about, tongue in cheek, to pick up momentum, to sound like a broken record player, outgoing personality, to fall into the wrong hands,, to bury X in bowels of Y, to break the circle of poverty, culture wars, kangaroo court, to spin one's whels, antebellum South, middle age crisis, to let bygones be bygones, to X at the 11th hour, as the end drew near, to drive something home, crown jewel, to open (old) wounds, to heal wounds, pockets of resistance, food for thought, to bend rules, to draw a line in the sand, to be in somebody's shoes, to have skeletons in the closet, to have all eggs in one basket, a whole new ball game, a golden opportunity, to provide ammunitions, to cut the (bureaucratic) red tape, to change one's mind, to have something on the mind, to get out of one's mind, to have an open mind, an open/closed society, quintessential American, a shoe-string budget, a cautionary tale,bargaing chip, war chest, poster boy, to iron out differences, to be right on target, to negotiate a lane, to call it quits, to set the ground rules, to set X on on its downward spiral, to come to a negotiating table, (not) to have it both ways, fair-weather friends, one-size-fit-all, to change hands, to be ahead of the game, early warning signs, to take a hands-off approach, to take X as a badge of honor, X would turn over one's grave, to take matters into one's own hands, to deal a heavy blow, to be back to square one, trivial pursuit, bear hug, to be out of one's mind, to lose a train of thought, to put all one's eggs in one basket, to make an informed decision, to sound like a broken record player, to fall from grace, the knight in a shining armor, to give the benefit of the doubt, in a timely fashion, a textbook case/example, a security blanket, biblical proportions, half-baked ideas, minute details, as the dust settles, to have a field day, to be a sign of the time, a love-hate relationship, to bring to the negotiating table, lightening rod, to muddy waters, to raise a red flag, to break the ideological gridlock, to ring alarm bells, to stick to principles, with all due respect, a heated debate, to have a field day, to unearth evidence, prima facie evidence, bona fide citizen, to let loose the dogs of war, to set against a backdrop of, to take somebody under one's wings, to lay on the table, to stir controversy, to ride high, to run deep, to have only oneself to blame, to put one's stamp on X, to play phone tugs, outright rejection, the girl next door, to wrap tightly in secrecy, to be at a loss with words, to have double standards, to give X a bad name, to live on the margins of society,to come full circle, to collapse on one´s own weight, time-honored tradition, to face the music, to give wide latitude, to be on full display, to have a photographic memory, tdead wrong, dead on arrival, to hold the key, to fall on hard times, as a last resort, (not) happen in a vacuum, to fall into somebody´s hands, to stand on the shoulders of giants, to tighten the noose (around somebody's neck), to send shivers down the spine, to have a chilling effect, tort reforms, to read tea leaves, trigger happy, in one's own right, if history is any guide, the man at the desk where the buck stops, anything once could lay one's hands on, to be prohibitively expensive, to give peace a chance, to learn the hard way, to pin one's hope on, to be ahead of one's time, by the same token, to be X's wildest dream, to be up in the air, a whipping boy, brute force, white flight, to be in the middle of nowhere, to wear X as a badge of honor, dirty old man, a male chauvinist pig, to have a track record, to be X's middle name, to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, to have a life of one's own, to look X into the face, to be ahead of one's time, to be filled far beyond capacity, to be on the receiving end, graveyard shift, to be left with more questions than answers, to X with surgical precision, a wisecracking sidekick, to come in all stripes, other things being equal, splinter groups, to put a human face on X, to be teetering on the edge/verge/brink of war/collapse, to become an overnight X, under false pretenses, to break the color barrier, X 101, in the great scheme of things, to follow X to its logical conclusion, a one-size-fits-all X, No X in their right mind would X, to call a spade a spade, to take with a grain of salt, X that Y love(s) to hate, a marriage made in heaven, if X is any indication, it goes without saying that, X would roll in their grave(s), in a no-man's land, to hit a record high, to X Y with a human face, to be lost in translation, on the spur of the moment, to have one's days numbered, to know a thing or two about X, to spoon-feed X information, a hair-raising X, X's worst nightmare, to spin out to have X at one's fingerprints, to come out of closet, to speak with one voice, to be sick to one's stomach, X isn't in Y's vocabulary, to do the heavy lifting, a dead-end job, to spearhead a revolution, to turn back the clock, to step out of X's shadow, by the turn of the century, to be in the trenches, a favorite whipping boy, to put oneself in X's shoes, ro roll in the grave, to ring a bell, to send into a tailspin, to smooth the rough edges of X, a hot button issue, both sides of the political spectrum, to be born with a silver spoon in themouth, a clean bill of health, to be in red, to get your head in the game, to run the gamut from X to Y, to drum up support for, to hold the purse's strings, to get one's act together, to cover ground, to reach deep into one's pockets, a closely knit community, the stars are aligned in favor of, arm-twisting X, to cherry pick, propoganda/rumor mill, dirty word, thorny issue, mood boosting, social fabric, to take the unusual step, to carry the day, to give a pink slip, to throw X to the wolves, to fall through the cracks of, safety net, to take X to new heights, in the dead of the night, to shower X with gifts, to choke on one's own vomit, to give a head start, to step on somebody's toes, to fill somebody's shoes, to be dressed to nine, to cloud the judgment, to crack a joke, to get what one deserves, to go straight to the point, no strings attached, to turn in one's grave, being called X by Y is like being called ugly by a frog… etc.

These metaphors vividly describe states or human activities: to put a final touch (painting), to lay the ground work, to tighten the screws, (construction), to raze to the ground (de-construction), low-key, to strike a note, to be out of tune (music), dead end (driving), slap in the face (fighting), to be in the trenches, to provide ammunitions, trigger and target, to be right on target, the drumbeat of war, to be caught in the crossfire, (war), fair game, to fall into a trap, (hunting), to keep the ball rolling (football), heavy weight/light weight, to box somebody in the corner (boxing), to let off the hook, to catch the big fish, to cast a wider net, to fish out information (fishing), to keep one's head above the water, to keep afloat, (swimming), to run neck and neck (running), to be at X's fingertips (piano playing), to pull the strings (puppets).
Gestures of course are source domains for these clichés: to raise one's eyebrows, to scratch one's head, to shrug shoulders, to rub shoulders, to rub elbows, to drug one's feet, to fold arms, to point fingers, to cross fingers, to pat somebody on the back, to roll one's eyes, to tighten one's belt, to force somebody´s hand, to tie the knot, to give thumbs up, to throw one's hands up, to get out of hand , to roll up one's sleeves…

III. The Origin of Clichés

These clichés come from different discourses: foreign languages, Greek and Roman mythologies, the bible, European history, literature, idiomatic expressions, proverbs, popular culture, advertisement, media, and journalistic lingo.

French, Latin and Italian

éminence grise, noblesse oblige, ménage a trios, déjà vu, c'est la vie!, double entendre, enfant terrible, a je ne sais quoi, carte blanche, bête noire, cause celebre, rapprochement, engagement, détente, nouveau riche, raison d'être, coup de grace, femmes fatales, tour de force, coup de grace, faux pas, de rigueur, joie de vivre, savoir-faire, laissez-faire, coup de theatre, au contraire, agent provocateur,bons mots, bon vivant, a fait accompli, roman a clef, terra incognita, casus belli, persona non grata, pro bono, mutatis mutandis, modus operandi, deus ex machina, la dolce vita, prima facie (evidence),à la X., idée fixe , grande dame, par excellence, esprit de corps, nom de guerre, l'état, c'est moi.

French calques

Although English is a Germanic language, the majority of its vocabulary comes from Latin and French. This is due to the 11th century Norman occupation. It is also interesting to note that the loan-words don't only deal with referents in the superstratum such as government, art, literature, religion, law, commerce, military, science and technology but also to the substratum as well including kinship terms such as family, parents, uncle, aunt, cousin, niece/nephew, …

English has kept the French expressions but translated some of them into English.

To take the bull by the horns (prendre le taureau par les cornes), to build castles on sand (batir les chateaux sur le sable), the ball is in your court (la balle est dans votre camp), to put the cart before the ox (mettre la charrue devant le boeuf), to give the green light (donner le feu vert), rising star (etoile montante), a striking example (un exemple frappant), a double-edged sword (une epee a double trenchant),diametrically opposed (diamétralement oppose), not to mince words (ne pas macher ses mots), cornerstone (pierre angulaire), with the naked eye (a l'oeil nu), common denominator (denominateur commun), lion's share (part du lion), to hand a blank check (donner un cheque en blanc), to kill two birds with one stone (une pierre, deux coups), to cast the first stone (jeter la premiere pierre), to rest upon one's laurels (dormir sur ses lauriers), a burning question (une question brulante), to thank from the bottom of one's heart (remercier du fond de son coeur), to have goose bumps (avoir la chair de poule), skirt chaser (coureur de jupon), to strike the iron while it's hot (frapper le fer quand il est chaud), vicious circle (un cercle vicieux), read between the lines (lire entre les lignes), a ticking time bomb (une bombe a retardement), a matter of life and death (une question de vie ou de mort), spring up like mushrooms (pousser comme des champignons), a ray/glimmer of hope (un rayon d'espoir), paper tiger (tigre en papier), witch hunt (chasse aux sorcieres, brain drain (fuite de cerveau), from the bottom of the heart (du fond du Coeur), the cream of the cream (la crème de la crème), safety valves (les valves de sauvetage), to rule with an iron fist (diriger avec un bras de fer), to run the risk of (courir le risqué), a lone ranger (cavalier seul), to have a soft spot (avoir un point faible), evil incarnate (le diable incarne), the law of the jungle (la loi de la jungle), to swim against the current (nager a contre-courant), to shoot oneself in the foot (se tirer une balle dans le pied), a rallying cry (un cri de ralliement), to come empty-handed (rentrer les mains vides), a lion's share (la part du lion), to be diametrically opposed (être diamétralement oppose), goatie (barbuche de chèvre), pepper and salt hair (cheveux poivre et sel), to be armed to the teeth (être armé jusqu'aux dents), sticking points (points saillants), honeymoon (lune de miel), to settle the matter once and for all (résoudre la question une fois pour toutes), être plus catholique que le pape (to be more catholic than the Pope), to cry wolf (crier au loup,) to be behind bars (être derrière les verrous), a thorny question (une question épineuse), to be on the same wavelength (être sur la même longueur d'onde), pell-mell (pêle-mêle), to roll one's sleeves (retrousser les manches), to read between the lines (lire entre les lignes), to have one's feet on the ground (avoir les pieds sur terre), to get goosebumps (avoir la chair de poule 'to have chicken's flesh'), to get the last laugh (rira bien qui rira le dernier), if the mountain doesn't go to Mohamed, Mohamed goes to the mountain (si la montagne ne va pas à Mohamed, Mohamed va à la montagne), lightening visit (une visite éclaire, crocodile tears (les larmes de crocodile), to get goose bumps (avoir la chair de poule), to munch one's words (mâcher ses mots), it's not the end of the world (ce n'est pas la fin du monde), a ghost town (une ville fantôme)., with the naked eye (à l'oeil nu), between the hammer and the anvil (entre le marteau et l'enclume), the cradle of civilization ( le berceau de civilization), to ring alarm bells ( tirer la sonnette d'alarme), free fall (chute libre), belt tightening (serrer la ceinture), inferiority/superiority complex, the ends justify the means (les fins justifient les moyens)., to roll up sleeves (retrousser les manches), to swim against the stream/current (nager contre le courrent), to draw the conclusion (tirer la conclusion), behind bars (derrière les verroux), cold blood (sang froid), minutely detailed (minutieusement détaillé, from the four corners of the world (des quatre coins du monde), to point the finger (pointer le doigt), visceral hatred (une haine viscérale), everybody knows that X wears the pants in the house (tout le monde sait que c'est X qui porte le pentalon à la maison), to draw attention (attirer l'attention), to draw a conclusion (tirer la conclusion), to put on a pedestal (mettre sur le pedestral), it is written black on white (c'est écrit noir sur blanc), an iron fist in a velvet glove (un bras de fer dans un gant de soie), at the helm of the ship of the state (au gouvernail du bateau de l'état), to hear it from that ear (l'entendre de cette oreille)., not to believe one's eyes (ne pas en croire ses oreilles), to throw the towel (jeter l'éponge)., a burning desire (un désir brûlant), brain washing (lavage de cerveau), braindrain (fuite de cerveau), puppet government (un gouvernement de marionettes), mushroom town (ville champignon), shantytown (bidonville).

There are some calques which have changed slightly by changing only one word:
loin des yeux loin du coeur (far from eyes far from heart>out of sight out of mind), arme à double trenchant (a double-edged weapon>double edged sword), to pay attention prêter attention (lend attention>pay attention), dormir sur ses lauriers (to sleep on one's laurels>to rest on one's laurels)

Mythology, Greco-Roman history, the bible and literature

Trojan horse, holy grail, between Scylla and Charybdis, Procrustean bed, the sword of Damocles, to cross the Styx, to fiddle while Rome burns, to cross the Rubicon, Orwellian twist, quixotic adventure, Gargantuan appetite, catch-22, Herculean task, Sisyphean task, Delphic answers/comments, to kill the goose that lays golden eggs, Pyrrhic war, forbidden fruit, to cast the first stone, to wash one´s hands, to turn the other cheek, a sacrificial lamb, to sell one's soul to the devil, to cross the Rubicn, to cast the first stone, to turn the other cheek., to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs, the fountain of youth, the tree of knowledge, David and Goliath, to unleash demons, to rise like a phoenix from the ashes, to sacrifice X on the altar of Y, a needle in a haysack, good Samarithan…

Journalist lingo:

X could not be reached for comment, a high government official who spoke on condition of anonymity, to invoke the Fifth Amendment, talking points, pundit, pork barrel, bull market, bear market, on both sides of the aisles (Republican and Democratic Congress), on both sides of the Atlantic, gunboat diplomacy, sunshine policy, to send the stock market tumbling, photo opportunity, a domino effect, p-r,. to have a domino effect, exhibit A..


To embellish/stretch the truth, to color facts, friendly fire, collateral damage, to make love, to downsize, comfort women, a four-letter word., fallen soldiers, to exercize poor judgment

Synonymous clichés

The use of powerful metaphors is what renders certain linguistic expressions cliches. Their "buzz-words", "catch phrases", and "sound bites" characteristics and the fact that they can be used in different contexts is what causes them to be overused. Clichés are thus not only polysemous , being able to kil two birds with one stone, but synonymous as well. It is the reason why there are many clichés which have the same meaning. Consider the following:

To open a can of worms<>to stir up a hornet's nest<>to open a Pandora's box<>to light a rocket's fuse; to show one's face<> to show one's true colors; political spectrum<>political landscape; as the story unfolds<> as the story starts to unravel; to go down the drain<>to go up in smoke, skyrocketing prices<>to send prices to the stratosphere; to take a back seat<>to put on the back burner, state of the art<>cutting edge ,root cause<>the straw that broke the camel's back, powder keg<>a ticking time bomb, to turn a blind eye<>to look the other way<>to turn a deaf ear<>to turn one's back, to stand tall <>to hold one's head high, to boomerang<>to backfire<>to fall on one's sword, to connect the dots<>to solve the jigsaw puzzle<>to put two and two together, middle of the road <>mainstream, the nuts and bolts of<> the ABC of <> the bread and butter of, to be hard-wired<> to be pre-programmed, to be on the loose<>to be still at large, to be deep-rooted<>to be entrenched<>to be ingrained, to have second thoughts<>to change one's mind, watchdog<>watchful eye, the launching pad<>the starting point<> the springboard<>the steppingstone<>a jumping off<>a doormat, a done deal<> a foregone conclusion, to drop charges<>to throw the case out, Achilles heel<>soft spot, hawks<>hardliners, doves<>bleeding hearts, to go to great lengths<>to do one's best, a hallmark<>a benchmark, X of all stripes<>all walks of life, one-dimensional guy<>a low-life guy<>a Neanderthal, to be on the fast lane<> roller coaster, to run out of steam<>to get burned out, to be sprinkled with<>to be inundated with, to keep the spirits up<>to keep a high morale, a mouthpiece<>a spokesperson., to pale next to<>to be overshadowed by, to be a household name<>to be on people's radar screen, a cocktail<>a hodgepodge<>a smorgasbord, ups and downs<>highs and lows<>peaks and valleys, to be in the back seat<>to be on the back burner, to ebb and flow<>to come and go, lifeblood<>backbone, entrenched<>embedded<>deep rooted<>firmly implanted<>ingrained<>deep-seated, fat cats<>big shots, the bread and butter of <> the nuts and bolts of, to root out<>to weed out<>to drain the swamps, to give the green light<>to give the carte blanche, landmark<>hallmark<>benchmark, trademark<>signature, to be at standstill<>to be put on hold, to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs<>to bite the hand that feeds you, to set the stage<>to lay the groundwork, to miss the point<>not to get it, to connect the dots<> to fit the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, lightening rod<>magnet, a trailblazer<>a pioneer<>a pathfinder, to spearhead<>to orchestrate, a bedrock<>a stronghold, to be at large<>to be still on the run, to crop up <>to spring up<> to mushroom<>to sprout, to carry X as badge of honor <> to wear X on one's sleeve, to drop charges<> to throw the case out, X at the embryonic stage<> X still in its infancy, watchdog<>whistle blower, to lay to rest<>to pull the plug, , to burn to the ground<>to go up in flames, a chain reaction<>a domino effect, to have a name recognition<>to be a household name, to mastermind<>to spearhead, vanguard<>trailblazer<.>pathfinder<>pioneer,gold standard<>yardstick<>benchmark, not to hold water (argument)<>to be toothless, who in their right mind<>who on earth, to be history<>to be a thing of the past, to bring X to their knees<>to bring X to heel, to up the ante<>to bring to a grinding halt, to zero in on <>to focus on, to dovetail<>to go along, to wrap up X<>to put final touches, at the height of one's career<>at the pinnacle of one's career, to rise exponentially<>to skyrocket<>to jump into the stratosphere, to catch fire<>to be an instant phenomenon, a sitting duck<>an easy prey<>fair game, the barometer<>the yardstick, to be nonplused<>not to be impressed, trademark<>hallmark<>signature; bedrock<>cornerstone, derring-do<>daredevil, Achille's heel<>soft spot, in X's embryonic stage<>in X's infancy, to X around the clock<>to X 24/7, to jump ship<>to walk out of the door, to paint X with broad brush strokes<>to cast with a large net, a resounding victory<>a crushing victory, a walking encyclopedia<> a Renaissance man, to walk on a tight rope<> to skate on thin ice, an 11th-hour X<> a last-minute X, between Scylla and Charybdis<>between a rock and a hard place, bedrock<>cornerstone, hotbed <> breeding ground, a tangled web<>an intricate network, to draw closer to <>to inch closer to, to zero in on <> to hone in on, a dead heat<>a neck-to-neck , an old beau<>an old flame, at the cutting edge<> at the forefront<>state of the art, a far cry<>a stark constrast, here you are!<>there you go!, to receive a standing ovation<>to bring X to its feet, to push the envelope<>to go overboard, fast track<>roller coaster, to eat crow<>to X tail between one's legs, slam dunk<>a piece of cake, to catch somebody with his pants down<>to catch somebody with his hands in something,to tie the knot<>to march down the aisle, to break the logjam<>to break the deadlock, to be a fair game<>to be an easy prey, to put on the finishing touches<>to smooth the rough edges of<>to wrap up,to be caugth red-handed<>to be caught with the pants down , a virtuoso performance<>a tour de force, to be tucked between X and Y<>to be sandwiched between X and Y, to be in cahoots with<>to kowtow, to follow suit<>to jump on the bandwagon , as the story opens<>as the story unfolds, Achilles' heel<>soft spot, there is no there there<>where is the beef?, low key<>low profile, a tempest in a tea pot<>to make fuss over a triffle, to wake up and smell the coffee<>to face the music, standard-bearer<>flagship<>crown jewel, to go down the drain<>to go down the tubes<>to go up in flames<>to go up in smoke, to dig one's grave<>to bite the dust<>to meet one's Maker(end)<>to kick the bucket, a con artist<>a snake-oil salesman, old habits diehard<>you can't teach an old dog new tricks, to close the chapter on X <>to turn the page on X, to open a new chapter<>to open a new page …

Since the majority of clichés are metaphors, synonymy is possible because the same referent can be expressed by different types of metaphors, visual by aural, smell by touch, etc.

Source Domain of Cliches

The source domain of clichés, is the same as that of metaphors: words which refer to the human body, human activities and space. A great number of metaphors come from words associated with the five senses, namely sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. Abstract concepts, for instance are described by giving them form, shape, size, and color. They may be described in terms of sound also with words which refer to pitch, noise, loudness, frequency, and harmony. They might be also conceptualized using terms of touch with words which refer to temperature (such as hot, warm, cool, cold, ice, freeze)) and tactile reflex (such rough, soft, sharp, dull) or weight (heavy, light). Taste also provides many metaphors and clichés especially with the following words: juicy, delicious, sweet, sour ,saucy, bitter, seasoned, to pepper. Feelings such as happiness, sadness, joy, anger or personality are also attributed to abstract, inanimate or non-human beings. Human activities such as moving, eating, farming, hunting, fishing, building, sports are a fertile land for clichés. Space as a location (open space, closed, bounded, unbounded and discontinuous), container, conduit and destination, is a super metaphor used in many clichés. Anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism are not limited to language but used in all semiotic systems as well.
Using concepts to express other concepts by the unconscious mind is referred to as conceptual metaphors (Lakoff 1980, 1999).
The "journey metaphor" and "seeing as knowing" metaphor are given for illustration purposes.

Journey metaphors:

In many languages of the world, the journey metaphor is used to refer to people's activities: education, career, politics, business, marriage, conversation, etc. The beginning of the activity is seen as the point of departure and the goal as the destination. The obstacles are considered as roadblocks or stumbling blocks. The success of activities is facilitated by good road conditions and so on. Take for example the expressions glass ceiling and glass wall which are used in ethnic studies to refer to the lack of both social vertical and horizontal mobility. Below more examples are provided.

To get off the ground, step by step, along the way, down the road, around the corner, under way, to cross paths, to pave the way, to clear the way, to walk one's way up, to go out one's way, to go into one's own way, road blocks, stumbling blocks, stepping stone, to go an extra mile, an uphill battle, to follow in the footsteps, a step in the right direction, uncharted territory, a leap into the unknown, to go hand in hand, to give a green light, to go to great lengths, to be a step ahead, to go so far, to go as far as, to go hand in hand, to go along with, breakthrough, to go to the extreme, to come to power, to come home to roost, to come a long way, to put a foot in the door, to stand in somebody's way, deadlock, breakthrough, to be a turning point, to be on empty, one-way street, dead end, to be in the driver's seat, to be in the back seat, to grind to a halt, to shift gears, to move into the higher gear, to push into the overdrive, to stonewall, to make a sharp right turn, a one-way street, to find one's way, ….

Seeing as knowing metaphor

Knowledge is acquired through good vision and ignorance is caused by lack of it such as blindness, myopia or darkness.

To see a light a the end of the tunnel, to eye open, to take a fresh look, a rising star, to look facts in the face, to be high on the agenda, an outstanding figure, to keep a low profile, to shed light, point of view ,to be shrouded in secrecy, dark Africa, dim and distant past, dark ages, to enter into the picture, to come into focus, visible to the naked eye, to turn a blind eye, to put into perspective, to blur the lines, to see no farther than one's nose, put up a smoke screen, to sweep under the rug, to cast a shadow, to be in total darkness ,to come to the surface, to be shortsighted, to see far, to have a narrow/broad view, to be on the radar screen .

Clichés and metaphors are universal and found in all languages. The only difference is their hierarchization, maximization and minimization of these senses in specific languages which largely depend on environmental factors, history and existential experiences. The majority of English cliches and metaphors use images probably to due the fact is a huge country with vast plains. Others are borrowed because of the colonial history. Other languages might maximize other senses such as sound, smell, touch because of respective environment and existential experiences.


Obviously the majority of words and expressions enter the language as clichés. They cease to be clichés when they reach the symbolic level when the transparency of the linguistic motivation is lost. The majority of linguistic signs in their genesis are iconic but later become opaque. For instance very few English speakers know that the word pen like the French word 'plume' meant 'feather'. Feathers were the ones which were used to write when writing was invented.
Because of their high frequency in usage some complex noun phrases have now become like single words in native speakers' minds as evidenced by the writing system in American English.:

milestone, touchstone, keystone, capstone, trademark, hallmark, landmark, benchmark, oddball, hardball, screwball, deadlock, breakthrough, egghead, mastermind, brainchild, lifeblood, springboard, etc.

This lexicalization of clichés, treating compound words as single words has created a reanalysis, treating one part of the word as either a suffix or prefix.
Landscape which is one of the favorite as seen in such expressions as
political landscape, legal landscape, social landscape, intellectual landscape, emotional landscape, mental landscape,
has created new words such as

skyscape, dreamscape, cityscape, townscape, streetscape, moonscape, mudscape, rockscape, oceanscape, seascape, icescape, snowscope, gridscape., woodscape, footscape, cloudscape, soundscape, summerscape, studioscape, beachscape, worldscape, urbanscape, riverscape.
thus treating scape as a suffix.
The adjective deep is being affixed to different types of words to express metaphorically how important or superficial things or events are:
skin-deep, knee-deep, bone-deep

As Guy Deutscher (2005) observed, clichés are "a necessary stage between new imagery and everyday vocabulary". A lot of vocabulary and linguistic expressions enter the language as clichés but they fade through overexposure and overuse.
Clichés are the linguistic expressions which still keep their freshness, newness and vivacity. Interestingly, etymology which studies the origin of lexical items and expressions, seems to attract no interest from historical linguistics which puts more emphasis on sound change, sound correspondance and syntactic change, ignoring the history of words. This neglect is due to the fact that modern theoretical linguistics has never been interersed in the meaning and function of language and also to the methodology since all sciences study systems and not individual items which constitute the system. All sciences start from top down before they can go from the botton up to understand the form and the function that each item plays in the system as a whole.

IV. Why linguists have neglected metaphors.

In post-structuralist linguistics, however, led by Noam Chomsky, metaphors have been ignored by linguists because of the peripheral role that semantics plays and also because metaphors are considered to be linguistic signs "thus arbitrary" and therefore of no interest to linguistic theory.

Generative linguistics is still Saussurian in character. The reason why metaphors have been ignored by linguists is that they are part of the vocabulary thus linguistic signs. Signs, according to Ferdinand de Saussure are arbitrary thus not interesting for scientific linguistic inquiry. The study of the genesis and dynamism of signs and structures, shows, however, that they all start as icons and that it is through overexposure and overuse that the iconicity and the motivation between forms and their meanings get lost.
When Generative Grammar was born, its motto was "semantics free syntax" or "autonomous syntax" with its famous illustrative sentence "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously". Although new theories were born such as Case Grammar, Generative Semantics, Lexical-Functional Grammar, Relational Grammar, to name just a few, to show the importance of meanings and function in syntax, formal generative grammars still dominates in linguistics. The criticisms have strengthened the theory because Chomsky and his followers incorporated these suggestions in the later forms of the theory , thus improving it. All languages that have been studied so far support Chomsky's ideas of Universal Grammar and the innateness hypothesis, namely that all languages share the same grammar and differ only on the surface and that language is part of human endowment. That langugage is innate is evidenced by the fact that children from any llinguistic background acquire language competence at a very early age without any stimulus thus contracicting behavioralists led by the late Harvard psychologist E.B.Skinner. For instance, tone representation, assignment and rules are out of control of the conscious mind and tone languages' native speakers are literally tone deaf thus unable to teach tone rules to their children, but children don't have any problems using these tones perfectly. This is evidence that indeed the grammar of language is a faculty of the mind where it has its own software.
Syntax influence in today's linguistics is also evidenced by the number of dissertations, the job openings, the kind of articles published in first-tier leading linguistic journals,linguistic departments' curruculums, etc. The triumph of formalism over functionalism was due to its advances and contributions in both descriptive and theoretical linguistics with mathematically elegantly formulated rules in syntax, phonology and morphology. Looking at the form rather than meanings and functions was also more attractive and easier because when dealing with exotic languages, the linguist with his or her tape recorder enregisters the native speaker and comes back to the office or laboratory and starts analyzing the data and formulates the rules which are responsible for the sound system (phonology), the word formation (morphology) and the sentence structure (syntax). There are only four types of sentence structure (SVO, SOV, VSO, OVS), four types of syntactic rules: permutations, substitutions, deletions and additions. There is a limited number of sounds. Only five types of phonological rules: assimilations, dissimilations, neutralizations, deletions and additions
Mastering the semantics of new languages takes a long time because meanings are intimately connected to culture.

Thus despite the pioneering work on metaphors by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980), mainstream linguistics is more involved in syntax, morphology and phonology and semantics is still on the back burner. I myself became involved in metaphors not as a linguist but as a semiotician interested in finding out the relationship between the sign and its referent not only in language but in all semiotic systems mostly symbols and rituals.
Frustrated linguists such as George Lakoff, Giles Fauconnier,Leonald Talmy, Dan Slobin, Ronald Langacker, Bill Croft, …gathered to create a subfield of linguistics that they have called cognitive linguistics. Although its inquiry includes syntax, morphology and phonology, it focuses more on semantics. They forget, however, that generative grammar is also cognitive, since its goal is to find out how language is represented in the native speaker's mind. Noam Chomsky in Syntactic Structures recognized that linguistics is a subfield of phychology. These linguists are right, however, in pushing linguists to put semantics at the center stage because of the role it plays in cognition. Syntactic structures are just containers of linguistic expressions. Rules which make up these structures are very simple and very minimal which means that the mind spends more time on deciphering and decoding the content. As the study of clichés and metaphors has shown concepts in the mind are represented as visual images, sounds, smells, tastes, or touches, any linguistic theory interested in how language is represented in the mind which ignores them is obviously mistaken.
Since the goal of linguistics is to understand how language is represented in the mind, it has to look at all aspects of language, not only at computational rules but at the contents of the building blocks of these structures.
Another important reason why there is little interest in semantics from linguists is due to the fact that the leading semanticists all have a background in formal semantics which is more philosophical than linguistic. Philosophers of language such as Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Richard Montague, William Van Orman Quine and their students are more interested in how structures of natural languages express universal truth, knowledge and belief whereas linguists are interested in language use. Linguists as scientists rely on empirical evidence whereas philosophers as thinkers are interested in ideas which many times are not testable.

The lexicalist and the transformationalist hypothesis

In the early beginning of generative grammar there was a dispute between the "transformationalist hypothesis" and the "lexicalist hypothesis". Lexicalists were convinced that some grammatical, phonological and morphological information have to be included in the dictionary to reflect how the mind functions, whereas transformationalists believed that lexical information was not needed in the grammar. In other words, both believed that there are two independent locations in the brain one for grammar and one for vocabulary but differed on how much each software should borrow from each other.
The study of clichés has shown that indeed the dictionary carries a heavy burden because not only do complex structures but fully formed complete sentences as well appear "non transformally generated", in the dictionary. This creates a serious problem for generative grammar which claims that native speakers are supposed to never imitate but always use their innately language endowment using grammatical rules and the vocabulary to create their own novel grammatical structures. Putting theoretical issues aside, in more practical terms, since these clichés are other people's linguistic expressions, which part of the linguiistic compotent they belong to? Grammar or vocabulary? The answer is obvious. A good dictionnary has to include them, the way it does for idiomatic expressions.

The cliché paradox

Before discussing the cliché paradox let's face look at the following eight paradoxes: the Rwanda paradox, the oil curse, the paradox of the contented female worker, the Hispanic paradox, the progress paradox , the twin paradox, the Zeno's paradox and the Inca paradox

The oil curse also referred to as the "paradox of plenty" is used to refer to developing countries which are very rich in natural resources. They become prey to giant predators namely multinationals and industrialized nations and this causes a lot of suffering to the general population because they spread their tentacles interfering in internal politics, creating political instability and installing corrupt leaders who will insure the predators' interest. Conflicts in countries such as DRC, Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Sudan in Africa have resulted from their oil, natural gas, and gold and diamonds and Bolivia and Venezuela in Latin America face similar problems because of their oil and natural gas . Iraq would not be in the deplorable situation it is in right now, if it were not the second oil producer in the world.
The Rwanda paradox refers to the treatment of criminals in the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. The masterminds of genocide are in Arusha living in hotel-like prisons and will never face death penalty, whereas the majority of executioners are in Rwanda jails and might be executed for their heinous crimes.
The "paradox of the contented female worker" was used by the New York Times columnist John Tierney . Apparently social scientists have found out that women in the work place don't like to go into cut-throat jobs which require them to compete and sacrifice their families and health such as the Wall Street.
Social scientists have also found that Hispanics, eventhough they have less education and income than Anglos, seem to live better lives, with less physical and psychological problems than Anglos: hence the coining of the Hispanic paradox.
The Progress Paradox is the title of a book by Gregg Easterbrook. The subtitle is "How life gets better while people get worse". He points out that the symptoms of the progress paradox are "choice anxiety", "abundance denial", "collapse anxiety", "the revolution of satisfied expectations".
The "twin paradox" is used in physics and has to do with Einstein's relativity thesis. It deals with time travel. According to this relativity theory it is theoretically possible to travel back in the past and witness or prevent events which took place or travel to the future and see events which have not taken placed yet. In this scheme of things if a twin is sent in this journey into the future, he or she can come back younger and on the return find his or her twin already dead.
The Zeno's Paradox is about what the Greek philosopher claims is the illusion of motion in an infinitely divisible space and time. It includes four paradoxes: the Dichotomy paradox, the Achilles and the Tortoise paradox, the Arrow paradox and the Stadium paradox.
The Inca paradox has to do with the lack of evidence that the Inca empire invented a writing system. Recorded histories show that empires because of their size and complex administration have a writing system. Scientists are wondering if Quipus, "mysterious bundles of colored and knotted threads which served as the Inca's means of recording information" were used to represent numbers or if these knots were not personal mnemonic devices but a true writing system which was used to record and transmit information.

The toxicity of clichés

Clichés are indeed "prepackaged ideas" because the users believe in what they mean. Which unfortunately happen to be sometimes deeply flawed concepts and deceitful myths. Consider: Dark Africa, melting pot, the wild west, the Deep South, middle class, ivory tower, white-collar crime, culture of poverty, model minority, globalization. Dark Africa, which uses a vision metaphor, entails a continent that nobody knows about and which in turn has not seen light yet. This cliché echoes Joseph Conrad's views expressed in his book In the Heart of Darkness. The melting pot metaphor and cliché which has already been debunked also implies that America is the blending of all cultures when indeed the minorities were forced to abandon their cultures and to assimilate to the majority culture. The wild west explains and justifies also the behavior of whites towards Indians in the Far West when they killed them like animals without any remorse or retaliation and retribution by the government which instead offered bounties for the heads of Native Americans especially in California during the Gold Rush, the Transcontinental Railroad construction during the expansionist ideology of Manifest Destiny which believed that the US had a divine right to expand from the rising sea to the shining sea. The cliché implies total lawlessness, a rule of the jungle with nobody in control which is a myth since the US government was in total control. The term Deep South which refers to the Southeast states including those which border the Gulf Mexico connotes for some speakers a racist and backward region which has been unable to keep pace with the rest of nation. The term middle class is a fuzzy concept because a $20,000 employee and a $200,000 cannot have the same values and lifestyles. The expression ivory tower is used to refer to university professors with a negative connotation because confined within the halls of the academe they are apparently disconnected from the outside world reality. This is why the term academic has also acquired a negative meaning, implying something which lacks seriousness, substance and depth in such expressions as that is just academic. This is where also the cliché, absent-minded professor comes from. Academics, however, as history shows, are the main agents and catalysts of social change not only because of their ideas and activism but also because they are the primary targets of any political system which wants to maintain itself in power. Unfortunately, because of this cliché, there are some universities and some faculty members who don't join or support unions because they believe that unions are only for blue-collar workers forgeting that they are also employees who have to negotiate their salaries, benefits and better working conditions. A high executive who commits a white-collar crime siphoning millions of dollars from a corporation, forcing it to file bankruptcy and fire its employees in thousands, sometimes receives a lesser court sentence than a petty criminal who is caught smoking dope or shoplifting. Some sociologists explain low class lifestyles and values such as spending without saving, having problems in future planning as culture of poverty. This is a myth, however, because there are many people in this society who were able to get out of this situation and were able to move both vertically, climbing the social ladder, and horizontally, being accepted in the whole national landscape. People raised on the mean streets are not all going to run into trouble with the law victims of envornmental determinism. . The model minority label is used by social scientists and the media and the politicians to refer to Asian-Americans is a myth also. This cliché which unfortunately a very large segment of the society believes, claims that this particular group is different from other minority groups namely Native Americans, Mexican Americans and African Americans because they share the same values as the majority namely work ethic and the desire to succeed. This cliché is detrimental to Asian Americans. First it lumps all Asian-Americans together as a homogenized group as if they had the same nationality, culture, the same motive for migration and the same existential experiences and the same economical status. And since this cliché is in a sense a praise and some kind of acceptance from the majority, Asians were forced to project this image for a long time, suffering in silence, refusing to seek help from the police to fight Asians-on-Asians crimes in their communities. People romanticize and exoticize Chinatowns forgetting that they are ghettos. This cliché prevented Asian-Americans also from fighting for their basic constitutional, civil and human rights when they were violated, thus allowing the self-fulfilling prophecy as far as respect of the oppressive institution is concerned but without necessarily achieving full citizen rights status. The cliché root causes is used by the media and some social scientists to explain different types of conflicts found in many pluralistic societies such as civil wars, mass massacres and genocides. This cliché has been debunked and should be replaced instead by seeds of hatred or breeding ground.
Globalization is both a slogan and a cliché in today's business. The concept is being pushed as the best thing for the world economy. This entails free trade, privatization of state companies, etc. This approach is good of course for corporate America and other Western big corporations which definitely are going to monopolize this global market since in this dog-eat-dog world the developing countries' companies will not be able to compete with the giants of industrialized nations. Which will result in what anti-globalization activists call the "MacDonaldization " or "Hollywoodization" of the world. One good example that globalization is one-way trade is the subsidization of farmers in Western nations by their governments which prevents farmers from developing countries from selling their products on the international competitive market. Countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, can't sell their cotton which is the only cash crop they produce because of the subsention of cotton farmers by the US government making the price more attractive because it is cheaper.

The cliché paradox: a window to the mind

Like proberbs, clichés which they too, use mnemoric devices, namely rhythm, rhyme, repetition and metaphors, they validate preconceived ideas.

Clichés are a useful and necessary tool for the mind They play a crucial role in cultural preservation, nation building and collective identity. The use of clichés implies acceptance and approprition of somebody else's words and ideas.
Clichés are guardians of collective memory . Memory plays a very big role in biological evolution and for human survival. For the human species to survive, we have to remember everything that is important to the society such as names, important dates, time, seasons, animals, plants, etc. Eventhough in literate industrialized societies, there are many other devices which are used to keep the memory such as books, museums, computers and so on, people still rely heavily on oral tradition or vertical transmission of knowledge as opposed to the horizontal which implies an interactional discourse and discussion. The brain unconsciously draws heavily on past experiences. It is the reason why, for instance, in this computer age, pre-industrial age metaphors such as as trailblazer, to spearhead, rule of thumb, as the crow flies, a stone's throw, to kill two birds with one stone, till the cows come home, to save/plan for rainy days, to go in search of green pastures, a fair-weather friend, to work one's fingers to the bone, to burn the midnight oil are still alive today. In most of the world's languages, the metaphors to fall into a trap, preys and predators are used to remind us that all modern societies were once hunter-gathers.

For maximum efficiency, the number of linguistic signs which refer to the infinite real world is reduced. For those who are familiar with the Chinese writing system which uses more than 5,000 symbols know, Chinese linguists are struggling to simplify and reduce this number because it is not functional. First, it is becoming difficult for even specialists to remember all of them and second, it becomes ever harder to remember their respective meanings.
Japanese uses four writing systems: kanji (borrowed from Chinese), hirakana (foreign words), katakana and romanu. The Roman writing system is becoming more popular because like English, it only uses 26 symbols or letters.
The minimization of signs in language is not limited to language but to other semiotic systems as well such as symbols and rituals. This tendency to reduce the number naturally results in the polyfunctional use of signs, symbols and rituals which creates polysemy: texts with multiple meanings.

All efficient systems use a principle of economy: a minimum use of paradigms and syntagms for a maximum performance, or to use a computer metaphor less input but more output, which is again a paradox.

The metaphoric cliché is multifunctional and can be used in different contexts. We saw many cases already in the section which discusses synyonymous clichés.
For instance the cliché to out-X X where X stands for any linguistic expression which means to out-do or out-perform something or somebody in what they are supposed to excell is used in zillion expressions to refer to different situations
such as to out-Google google in internet search, to out-Bush Bush in concocting stories of the production of weapons of mass desruction, to out-Hilter Hilter in evilness and in mass killings, to out-France France in producing better wines,etc.
Contrary of Raimo Anttila's claim that there is a tendency in natural languages to be isomorphic what he calls "one meaning one form", asymmetry between words and their respective referents is more natural than symmetry which implies a one-to-one relationship) between the referent and the linguistic sign. The symmetry would require more space storage, more work on memory and material retrieval. Finite means are used to refer to infinite experiences. The language uses few sounds, few morphemes, few syntactic rules and few words. This is not unique to language but a characteristic of all semiotic systems


Clichés as metaphors help us in understandig novel experiences and complex concepts and in memory preservation.
As it was pointed out earlier, the majority of linguistic signs enter the language as icons or clichés. Because of time the transparency becomes lost and the relationship between the referent and the sign which refers to it becomes part of the unconscious mind. Not only are the jargon in professions and academic fields metaphors but are also the majority of everyday expressions that we use are metaphors that the conscious mind is not aware of.
Many people use expessions such as beautiful song, big problem, hard question, sad story…without being aware that they are using metaphors. Songs are sounds but a visual metaphor is used in the first example. A problem is an abstract concept but a visual metaphor of size is used and question is also an abstract concept but uses a qualifier tactile metaphor.The adjective sad modifying story is not used literally but as metonymy. A metaphor entails similarity between the literal meaning and the figurative meaning whereas a metonymy implies an association between the referent in the primary plane and the one in the secondary plane. The association in this case is that of cause and effect.
In linguistics, for instance, and this is true for other academic disciplines as well, words that are used to describe linguistic data and phenomena are metaphors as are terms for new theories. The latest theory, the Minimalist Program, is a metaphor borrowed from art. Generative Grammar is metaphor as well. Deep structure or underlying structure versus surface structure to describe the mental representation versus the phonetic representation of sentences are obviously visual metaphors. The terms trigger and target which are used to refer to linguistic elements which are responsible for changes and the ones which are being affected are gun metaphors. The metaphors launching sites and landing sites used to refer to initial positions within the structure and the final position, respectively, after transformationl rules or phonological have taken place, are flying metaphors. Promotions, demotions, raising and lowering terms used to refer to syntactic phenomena which either put linguistic elements in prominent positions or the opposite and main clauses or subordinate clauses and head nouns, auxiliary verbs, subordinate clauses are about social hierarchy.
The majority of metaphors used in linguistics come construction and plantation as examples below show:

Constructions metaphors:

foundations of language, language structures, language design,, sentence construction.

Plantation metaphors.

semantic fields, tree diagram, verb root, verb stem, branch, tree pruning.

Recent research has shown that all sciences not only do they use metaphors to describe and explain physical phenomena, but that they also show the metaphoric nature of scientific thought.
For instance, the physicist Lisa Randall became aware of the scientific metaphors in physics and their misleading interpretations only when she found out that the two leading theories in physics namely field theory and string theory were translated in French,respectively as théorie des champs and théorie des cordes. She didn't think that the translation was a correct rendition of the English metaphors.

The reason why we are able to use computers, it is because its technology uses metaphoric expressions which are familiar and understandable to all of us. For instance, all command expressions such as save, open, move, launch, copy, cut, paste, move, download …are metaphors.
Using metaphors borrowed from familiar semantic fields and themes has made it possible for average people to use it and to understand how it functions. Some of these themes is to consider the computer as an office, to go to the computer as a journey or movement, the type of movement on it as a traffic, the display on the computer screen as a menu, tools as small animals, problems as diseases.
The computer conceived as an office is show by these metaphors: desktop, laptop, file, folder, window, hardware, tools, to throw a file into the trash, recycling bin .
To use the computer is to go on a journey: to run a program, to run fast, to surf the internet, to visit home pages,web navigation, to browse websites, to go to a website, to crawl.
The restaurant metaphor menu is used to show that users have the option to select among the many options that are displayed on the computer screeen they want to use.
Problems on the computer as diseasemetaphors are: virus, worm
Small animal metaphors are : mouse, snailmail, bug
post metaphors: mailbox, voicemail, email address,
traffic metaphors are: web traffic, information highway, high speed internet
The book metaphors are: webpage, bookmark, to browse the web

What is interesting also is that many computer metaphors have entered the language as well. Computer metaphors are now used to refer to the different functions of the mind. The brain is seen as the hardware and the mind as software.
We are preprogrammed, reprogrammed, or hard-wired for something. We put something into our database, we have our harddrives filled up, we have a memory installed, we parse sentences. The brain is supposed to have neural networks and brain circuity.

There is ofcourse a big difference between the computer and the brain. Unlike the computer, the brain doesn't have enough space to store all lexical items. It can't retrieve the memory very easily like the computer, either, due to the fact that the brain does not store memory in one place.

What is interesting is that these computer metaphors which come from existing metaphors are now used as new metaphors to refer to the mind. This is a case of metametaphors, metaphors used to refer to new referents using existing metaphors.
All new technologies use familiar metaphors but they , too, in return contribute new metaphors to the language as shown by the train metaphors ( to lose the steam, robber barons, a whistle blow, train wreck, to derail a process… ), the car metaphors, the plane metaphors, the space metaphors (it's not rocket science, you don't have to be a rocket scientist, …)

The power of the mind as the existence of clichés shows is not how much it can store, remember or retrieve but how it is able to do more with less. For maximum performance and efficiency, it uses few computational rules and reduces the lexical storage by giving new meanings and functions to words that already exist to express infinite novel experiences. This polysemy of course is sometimes responsible for ambiguity. Minimalism then is not only restricted to the formal properties of language but to linguistic signs and semantic structures as well.
I end this lecture by by raising another important fundamental question that philosophers and scientists have not answered yet. Current research in cognitive science has shown that ideas are not disembodied as Plato and Descartes had previously claimed. Descartes went even farther with his famous statement "cogito ergo sum" (I think therefore I am) and this is referred to as Cartesian dualism, the separation of mind and body. But language is biologically based and our brain is hard-wired to it as Noam Chomsky and cognitive scientists from diverse disciplines have shown. Since we understand concepts only through metaphors, and since science and philosophy are interconnected with culture and also use metaphors to talk about scientific issues and that these metaphors can be misleading as many scientists have pointed out especially with metaphors dealing with environment and ecological systems and all academic disciplines go through paradigm shifts almost every decade, can we talk about "objective reality" or "scientific truth"?


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