Archive for the ‘Clichés’ Category

No cultural clichés!

November 16, 2014

In a possibly apochryphal story, someone complains that they can’t appreciate Shakespeare’s plays because they’re so filled with clichéd expressions. Of course, those expressions were either innovations of Shakespeare’s or other figurative language spread through Shakespeare’s. If you come to works of art in a vacuum, with no sense of their cultural context, then even works of genius can seem banal.

Another example: a friend of mine who found Mozart’s music boring, because for him it was all generic “classical” music, only too familiar.

And now, another friend who (despite his attraction to action movies of many sorts) can’t appreciate classic Westerns, like Red River, because he feels they’re too predictable.

I’m sure there are other examples from other arts, though I can’t provide them from my own experience. Probably there are people who can’t appreciate Monet’s water lily paintings, or Charles Dickens’s novels, or John McPhee’s non-fiction books.


Formulaic: Zippy, OBH

May 4, 2014

Two Sunday cartoons touching on formulaic language: a Zippy with clichés, a One Big Happy with a familiar quotation in a German accent:


The line between clichés and idioms is not always clear (and I’m not at all sure that making the distinction clearer would be particularly useful): I’d class have a frog in one’s throat and zip your lip, for instance, as idioms.


The German heavy from a bad movie, with a standard line.

My Hobby Comics

March 24, 2014

Some bounty from the Stanford Linguistics in the Comics freshman seminar, a collection of xkcd cartoons with subheaded metatext “My Hobby”, searched out by Kyle Qian. Kyle found about 1,300 xkcd cartoons online, 36 of them subheaded this way, and he posted 7 of them with discussion. (I’ll put off posting about his comments until he gives me permission. The cartoons are in some sense public, but Kyle’s analysis is certainly not.)


Ask AZ: there there

June 21, 2012

From a science reporter yesterday, a query about where the expression there there came from. My answer came in two parts, one having to do with the comforting or reassuring there, there, the other with Gertrude Stein and Oakland (because my correspondent specifically mentioned them).


face compounds

February 25, 2012

Today’s Zippy:

Mainly about Facebook and face time, but there’s other stuff in there too.


Dinosaur Grammar

January 23, 2012

In a comment by The Ridger on my “sneak peak” posting, a link to this excellent Dinosaur Comic:

Three things: case-marking with than; the dangers of correcting people’s grammar (this is why The Ridger linked to the cartoon — for Utahraptor’s criticism and T-Rex’s response); and the mixed clichés (“out of the box” and “push the envelope”).



January 17, 2012

From Karen Erickson on Facebook, Ride the Wild Wiener:

There’s no text in the speech balloon, so you can feel free to invent some (as people on Facebook are doing).


When hell freezes over

August 8, 2011

A Bizarro with unlikely language changes:

We all have our peeves and pleasures. Apparently, the Devil appreciates awesome and That being said.


July 13, 2011

Today’s Zippy, with a wave of mangled clichés:

I got “Fat chance”, “There’s strength in numbers”, “One good turn deserves another”, and “I’m on pins and needles”, plus “the wisdom of crowds” in the title, but I was momentarily stumped on lick Pawtucket (“kick the bucket”). The line between clichés and idioms is none too clear here.

(And note: “Scuffle, muffle, duffel, trick!”)

Conger on!

Bodies politic

June 10, 2011

Two days ago I posted on parasites and the body politic — well, on a family of expressions linking the two, of which parasites on/upon/in the body politic are central examples. My assumption was that these expressions were in fact instances of a formula, now quite common — and, indeed, common in certain contexts since (as it turns out) at least the late 19th century (see the comments on the earlier postings).

Attempting to track things back earlier than this (as Michael Palmer has been so valiantly doing) leads to a set of examples in which the idiom body politic is involved in medical metaphors. This is parallel to the situation with other formulaic expressions (clichés and snowclones, in particular), where research on their history takes us back to the circumstances that gave rise to the formulas — that is, to times before the expressions were fixed in form.

But first, notes on body politic itself.