In Defense of Clichés (and Other ‘Adjusted’ Words)

 by Miko Johnston

william-james-booksellerI frequent a bookshop in a neighboring town that sells books for and about writers, along with writing-related merchandise (if you’ve been to Port Townsend Washington you know which store I mean). They carry postcards and T-shirts with writing slogans like “Avoid Clichés like the Plague”. Cute. Unfortunately, it denigrates clichés. The meaning of the word has been ‘adjusted’, and unfairly so, IMHO.

Hear me out. I’m not endorsing the constant use of ‘isms’ we now label as cliché. But the word has become synonymous with trite, and that’s unfair. While some clichés may be trite, most are merely unoriginal, though with good reason – they’re shorthand for knowledge that’s been established throughout the ages and shown to be generally true.

clicheWhen selectively used, a good cliché expresses wisdom through metaphor. A stitch in time figuratively saves nine. Actions often do speak louder than words. Sometimes it is a dark and stormy night, but since that opening line shows up more in humorous writing nowadays, we expect it to be funny, not dark. Like cliché, the expression’s meaning has been ‘adjusted’.

Not a unique situation in phrases or in words. So many words have been adjusted – either with new meanings added on, or by having their definition abridged to one exclusive meaning. In one of my older posts (see July 17, 2019) I mentioned how Clarity in writing must include weighing a word’s intended meaning against what it’s perceived to mean.

Also consider how even when the word’s meaning should be clear, many don’t understand what the word means. Take secret, for example. It’s supposed to mean confidential, not to be disclosed, but too many people seem to be unaware of that, otherwise they wouldn’t try to get you to reveal a secret. Isn’t the very meaning of that word to withhold information based on a vow?

Or take the word average. It’s a mathematical term, meant to express the value of a group of data by adding it up and dividing it by the total of their number, yet it’s taken on social connotations. We hear the expression, the average person, or man, or woman, and wonder what that could be. We equate average with falling straight down the middle of a ranking system, not being good or bad, not taking sides. Somehow average has become something to avoid, either as a person or as an opinion. And don’t get me started on how compromise has become synonymous with cowardice.

How about proud? According to my dictionary the noun proud means: feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one’s own achievements, qualities, or possessions, or those of someone with whom one is closely associated. Have you heard anyone say they were proud of themselves, even without accomplishing an achievement (which I believe includes making the attempt, working hard and doing your best)? Or proud of a celebrity whom they’ve never met?

As a writer, knowing words – their meaning, and using them in the proper context to express thoughts – has become more challenging as the meaning of words have become ‘adjusted’. Have you noticed this trend? How have you ‘adjusted’ to it?

 

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Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin

September Memory

by Miko Johnston

When you read this my husband and I will in France for an annual international conference that we’ve attended most years since 1993. All have been wonderful and enriching experiences, but one will always stick out in my memory until my dying day.

We arrived in Grenoble on a warm Saturday and after checking into our hotel, wandered to the main street for dinner. We’d been attending these conferences for enough years to have met and befriended many of the attendees, so when we passed a few of them sitting outside a restaurant they invited us to join them. The organization chairman ordered mussels and white wine for the table.

zan-ilic-WrueFKpTlQs-unsplashSoon waitstaff brought out steaming five-gallon pots filled with briny shellfish, loaves of French bread and bottles of chilled wine – a white Beaujolais, which I’d never heard of before. I took one sip and delighted in its light freshness, its unpretentiousness, like young girls in summer dresses.

More attendees showed up and joined our group, and soon extra tables were added as our numbers grew. We ate and drank, laughed and caught up with each other’s lives as more orange-enameled cast iron pots of mussels emerged from the kitchen, more bread, and more of that innocent young wine.

This was September 8, 2001.

Three days later, as I returned from a morning of hiking up La Bastille hill and riding down the spherical cable cars known as “Les Bulles” (bubbles), I returned to my hotel room shortly after three and turned on the television to CNN. I saw coverage of a plane that had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York. My first instinct was to blurt, “What the ___?” but before I could get the words out I watched as a second plane hit the other tower.

world-trade-center-67695_960_720Not wanting to be alone, I found my husband and we gathered with other Americans in the lobby, where we watched the horror continue to unfold on a big screen. We gathered in small groups to commiserate. One friend had a brother who worked in the first tower (miraculously, he wasn’t there that day). Another recognized a name from the passenger list of one of the planes that hit the tower – his former boss. All of us were too shocked to respond until he said, “If anyone deserved to go like that, it was that SOB.”

Then the first tower collapsed.

That evening the conference attendees and their guests had been invited to the Hotel de Ville  – the administrative building of the city – for the annual reception hosted by the mayor. It usually involves a brief greeting and welcome, followed by drinks and refreshment. Instead, we gathered with the mayor and city officials in a moment of silence followed by the usual greetings to the attendees, albeit in a more subdued manner.

Then we left, passing the restaurant we’d dined in Saturday night. Someone inquired if they could accommodate our group for dinner. They could, but for our numbers, not outside. They took us to a separate room upstairs.

Once again we gathered, not outside but in a converted attic to eat and talk. You can imagine the conversation. The pots of mussels soon appeared, along with the bread, but not that delicate wine. Every bottle of white Beaujolais was gone, along with our innocence.

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Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

 

This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin