What Is a Cliché? | Definition, Meaning & Examples

A cliché is an expression or trope that has lost its impact due to excessive use in a given cultural context. “Time heals all wounds” is an example of a cliché.

Clichés are often perceived as a sign of a lack of effort, imagination, or sincerity in writing, speech, and creative works.

Examples of clichés
Actions speak louder than words.

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

What goes around comes around.

Scribbr’s Paraphrasing Tool can help you find alternatives to clichés and find your unique voice.

What does cliché mean?

A cliché is an idea or turn of phrase that is considered dull and ineffective because of widespread overuse.

Clichés can be verbal or conceptual. A verbal cliché is a banal word or figure of speech.

Verbal cliché examples
  • awesome
  • crystal clear
  • Every cloud has a silver lining.

A conceptual cliché: an overused plot device, character archetype, or other element of a creative work.

Conceptual cliché examples
  • the “it was all a dream” plot device
  • the “mad scientist” character archetype
  • the “happily ever after” ending

Clichés can make writing feel predictable and uninspired. Unique expressions are typically more compelling and memorable.

Perceptions of clichés are somewhat subjective. Newer expressions in particular may seem novel to some people and tiresome to others (e.g., “binge-watching” or “living rent free” in someone’s head).

“Cliché” can serve as a noun or an adjective, but “clichéd” is more widely accepted as the adjective form.

The term “cliché” is a loan word derived from the French “cliquer” (to click), used in printing to describe the repetitive sound of a plate that produced the same content repeatedly.

Cliché examples

Examples of writing clichés and their alternatives are shown in the table below. These phrases are not incorrect or taboo, but they tend to be overused.

Writing cliché examples Alternatives
At the end of the day Ultimately; in the final analysis
It is important to note Notably; importantly
It is widely accepted that Research shows that; evidence suggests that
On the other hand Conversely; alternatively; in contrast

Business clichés (also known as “corporate speak”) are often used to signal belonging or expertise, but excessive use can be perceived as grating and inauthentic.

Examples of business clichés and alternatives are shown below.

Business cliché examples Alternatives
Bandwidth Capacity; resources
Circle back Revisit a topic later
Move the needle Make significant progress
Low-hanging fruit Easy-to-achieve goals
Synergy Effective collaboration
Paradigm shift Fundamental transformation
Value add Provide additional benefit
Game changer Significant innovation

Thought-terminating clichés

A thought-terminating cliché is a short, dismissive expression that hinders critical thinking or shuts down discussion. “You’re overthinking it” is an example.

Robert Jay Lifton popularized the term “thought-terminating cliché” in a book on brainwashing and thought control. He described thought-terminating clichés as dismissing profound issues with “brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed.”

Thought-terminating cliches are common in both private and public discourse:

  • In personal conversation: They are vague, invalidating truisms that are difficult to argue with and serve as conversation stoppers.
  • In public discourse: They are stock phrases and simplistic arguments used to defend the status quo, upholding unjust systems, behaviors, and attitudes.
Personal conversation Public discourse
That’s just the way things are.

It’s all part of God’s plan.

You’re overthinking it.

It’s not that serious.

We’ve always done it this way.

Don’t rock the boat.

You’re being too sensitive.

Collateral damage

Just following orders

Separate but equal

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

You’re either with us or against us.

Boys will be boys.

How to avoid using clichés

Clichés tend to diminish a message’s impact, whether in speech, writing, or creative works. It’s not inherently wrong to use clichés, but original words and ideas have greater potential to make an impact.

George Orwell felt so strongly about avoiding clichés that he advised, “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

How to avoid clichés:

  1. Familiarize yourself with common clichés.
  2. Identify them in your writing.
  3. Replace them with original wording.

Frequently asked questions about clichés

How do you use cliché in a sentence?

Cliché can be used as a noun or an adjective. (“Clichéd” is more commonly used as the adjective form.)

Noun usage:

  • The movie was filled with every cliché imaginable.
  • That phrase has become a tired cliché.

Adjective usage:

  • The plot was cliché(d) and predictable.
  • His speech was full of cliché(d) expressions.
What is a synonym for cliché?

Cliché has several synonyms and near-synonyms:

Noun Adjective
banality

bromide

chestnut

commonplace saying

platitude

stereotype

stock phrase

trope

banal

derivative

hackneyed

overused

played out (slang)

stereotypical

tired

trite

Various short sayings can become clichés through overuse but lack the term’s inherent negative connotations. These include adages, aphorisms, catchphrases, idioms, mantras maxims, mottos, proverbs, slogans, and truisms.

How do you spell cliché?

Cliché is spelled with an acute accent mark (é).

  • Noun spelling: cliché (plural: clichés)
  • Adjective spelling: clichéd (preferred) or cliché*

*The word cliché can serve as an adjective without modification because of its French origins as the past participle of “cliquer” (to click).

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Shabo, M. (2024, May 30). What Is a Cliché? | Definition, Meaning & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved July 17, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/rhetoric/cliche/

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Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.