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Most people can recognize a cliche by the fact that they feel like groaning when they hear one. A cliche is a saying or phrase that has been so overused that it has lost all meaning. However, it is important to bear in mind that a cliche develops over time. When it was first invented, a cliche was probably just an aphorism; it only became a cliche because of thoughtless overuse by too many people. 

What is a cliche?

Do you want to know more about what a cliche is? In that case, this webpage should suit you like water suits a fish. 

Here at Ultius, we are committed to helping you develop your skills as a writer. This includes providing you with resources that you can use in order to bolster your knowledge of key literary terms. 

In fact, that line about a fish above was something of a cliche. 

A cliche is simply a simile, metaphor, or figure of speech that has been used so much that it no longer really has power or originality. People usually want to avoid cliches, because it is seen by others as a sign of a lazy mind. 


Here are some examples of the term cliche being used within the context of actual sentences. 

"The man was convinced that he had invented the comparison on his own, but his friends argued that it was a cliche that had actually been used countless times within popular culture." 

"When the teacher read the tired cliche in the student's paper, she wondered how much original thought and attention he had really put into writing the thing."

"Although the politician's words would have seemed like a cliche within a different context, they were so appropriate within the specific context that this did not even cross the listeners' minds."

In case you are still a little confused about the meaning of the term cliche, here are a couple guidelines to help you make sure you are using the word properly. 

1. Cliche also has the connotation of overuse. If a metaphor or figure of speech is unique or invented by a single writer himself, then it cannot be a cliche. A cliche is usually firmly embedded in the popular cultural consciousness, to the point that all members of a social group have probably heard it before. 

2. In order to figure out whether something is a cliche, you could subject it to what could perhaps be called the "groan test". That is: think about whether when someone says it, it is so lame that it makes you want to groan (or roll your eyes). If this happens, then the thing said by the person is probably a cliche. 

Further understanding

It is important to understand that no turn of phrase is inherently a cliche. Rather, a phrase becomes a cliche as a result of its cultural and social context of use. The same phrase can be considered a cliche within one culture but highly original within another. Calling something a cliche is thus a relative judgment based on what a given person and his social group are used to hearing. When any given cliche was first invented, it by definition could not have been a cliche. 

For example, talking about the "butterfly effect"—the idea that by flapping its wings, a butterfly can create a tornado on the other side of the planet—is probably a cliche by now within popular culture. This is especially the case since the making of the movie with Ashton Kutcher. However, if someone had never heard of this concept before, then it would not strike him as a cliche at all. Much the opposite, he would think of it has a highly original and poetic thought. In short, the concept of the cliche is a relative one.

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