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.