When Does a Cliché Become a Cliché?

At the end of a long day filled with horrific TV news saturation, I tweeted,

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the phrase “our thoughts and our prayers.” When does it become a cliché?

“It doesn’t (become a cliché),” said the first person to respond. “Provided it’s said with sincerity, it’s the right thing to say.” Within minutes I received several similar replies. “Only when it is insincere,” said one. “When we stop feeling it,” said another.

For the record, I never questioned the sincerity of the public officials who expressed those sentiments. Public Information Officers are trained, after all, to offer statements, and I believed the array of spokespeople were truly sincere in what they said.

Yet, throughout the day, I heard the phrase “our thoughts and our prayers” so many times that it began to sound trite and canned. When the same words or phrases are repeated often enough, they sound like clichés, at least to me. Perhaps they were not clichés when they initially rolled from the mouths of various speakers, but they likely sounded that way when they hit the ears of the listeners.

A cliché sincerely expressed is still a cliché. For example, I’ve interviewed many job applicants who were sincere in the answers they gave. Their responses sounded trivial, though, because they used the exact same words to tell me the exact same things other candidates were saying. Sure, the interviewees were sincere, yet they failed to stand out because they relied too heavily upon worn clichés.

So when does a cliché become a cliché? Is the answer determined by the sincerity of the speaker? Or, could oft-repeated phrases automatically become clichés when the listener has heard them so many times they lose their original punch?

Canned phrases, sanitized talking points and clichés do not get the job done. Spokespeople need to find new ways to keep their messages fresh and relevant. They should speak from the heart and express sincerity in their own unique voice, avoiding the exact same phrases others rotely repeat.

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4 Responses to When Does a Cliché Become a Cliché?

  1. Rick says:

    We had the same problem when I worked in Hospital Public Relations. How many times can you say “state of the art” without making it sound trite. But so many times when we were trying to get information out to the public, my CEO would fall back on the same phrase, over and over again. It was a phrase I worked hard to have replaced with something else. Unfortunately, I failed. C’est la vie.

  2. Duane Hallock says:

    I hear you Rick. I once worked in hospital PR, and it seemed that 100% of hospitals would somehow use the word “caring” in their ads, slogans and promotional materials. I grew to hate the word (not the sentiment) because it’s boring and not differentiating.

  3. Hmmmm . . . ended up here from a “Potential Blog Topics” Pin on Pinterest. Since I use it seems accepted by those that are strongly faith based similar to God Bless You, Amen etc and has been my experience those most offended have been agnostic & atheists who have expressed their disdain. No doubt instances where it has appeared disingenuous if the person would perhaps not ordinarily make use of the phrase. Or maybe it’s because Prayer has been removed from schools, assembly, and in so many other ways that when now referenced seems an oddity. What ever the reason it sure fits well within a Tweet, after all to be politically correct it might sound like: “My thoughts” are with those not faith based for strength during this tragic time “and prayers” are out to you believers who rely on their faith and community for comfort. And yes, may I have an Amen to that . . .

    • Duane Hallock says:

      And speaking of prayer, some of the most over-used clichés are strung together in vapid public prayers. I wonder if God knows what they’re trying to say.

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