Thursday, 17 June 2010

It’s Only A Cliché

Last week I was reading a magazine article about the making of Sergio Leone’s The Dollars Trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood.  Just as it was getting interesting, and I was looking forward to acquiring some previously unknown behind-the-scenes information, the paragraph cut short with the line: “And the rest, as they say, is history,” leaving me to wonder what the rest of it would’ve been if someone had bothered to write it.

Then, a few days ago, I was watching a documentary on some DVD (or the other) about the making of some television show (or the other).  About three minutes into the programme a man said: “I know this is a cliché but we really were a family.”  Minutes later somebody else - completely unrelated to the first man - said exactly the same thing.  Then a third person popped up - a woman this time - and said that, in her opinion, they were a family back then and still are today, but she knew it was a cliché.

Subsequently, I was stopped in the street by someone collecting money on behalf of the planet.  I politely declined her offer of conversation and promised to look at her organisation’s website, to which she replied: “I’m not being funny but everyone says that.”  I’m not sure why she expected me to deem this comment “funny” but I left her to it and walked on.

The sad fact of the matter is that clichés are one of the worst parts of modern-day language.  They have become so mindlessly ingrained into our psyche that the whole concept of using them has become a cliché in itself.  Even the extraneous snippets of dialogue like “as they say” have become clichés in themselves and are treated as some kind of justification for using them when, more often than not, there is a much better way of expressing yourself in the first place.

If using clichés is accepted so lazily in today’s society then it occurs to me that I could have prevented myself a great deal of educational stress if I had applied this principle to my school exams.  History was never my strong point and I feel writing tiresome essays about World War II or Alfred The Great burning his buns would’ve been a lot simpler if I’d just chucked in a date here, a place name there, then rounded it all off a couple of paragraphs later with: “And the rest, as they say, is history.”

People working in television who say they are part of a “family” should rethink their lives.  It is certainly not the kind of family I would ever want to sit down to Christmas dinner or play a game of Scrabble with.  Can you imagine a family conversation where all you hear is: “Well, I’m in pre-production,” this, and: “I need to call his agent,” that?  It makes childhood memories of my family’s annual Monopoly game seem trivial, even though certain relatives were so hell-bent on taking it seriously that they insisted on setting their own rates of return and charging fellow players Poll Tax.

The interesting thing about people who precede everything they say with “I’m not being funny” is the fact that it is usually an indicator that they are not.  Thus, anything they say afterwards which raises even the remotest of smiles can be considered a bonus.  What’s more fascinating is the usual blandness of the phrases which follow in which any intelligent human being would struggle to understand why clarification for the absence of humour is needed at all: “I’m not being funny but I went down the pub last night and had a drink;” “I’m not being funny but the batteries on my TV remote have run down;” “I’m not being funny but people generally find me utterly humourless on a number of levels, including myself.”

As a struggling writer I recognise the importance of exploring our rich and diverse language without resorting to bland, common and meaningless phrases.  And I implore any fellow writers out there to follow suit.  Meanwhile, I have more important considerations.  I’m not being funny but recently I reconnected on Facebook with some relatives who I haven’t seen for many years.  I know it’s a cliché but we really are a family.

And the rest, as they say, is history.


Alexa O said...

"To be honest with you" is also an indication that the speaker is lying. And hearing "no offense, but" is the best way to tell that you are about to be insulted.

Matt Cruse said...

Indeed! Also: "Having said that..." is clear indication that someone is about to do a complete U-turn: "I love you. Having said that, I've been seeing someone else."