Tuesday, August 20, 2019


Sometimes it dawns on you only slowly: This person thinks only in cliches. You can move her to another cliche, but never to anything new. We are all like this because of efficiency, but some are more extreme. I wonder if it more than just the efficiency of the automatic, but includes some measure of social or intellectual insecurity as well.  A cliche is an idea that has been tried out and found acceptable by many people.  One is unlikely to get in much trouble for a cliche, if one stays with the set favored by one's tribe.

I used to say "Sayings become cliches for a reason," nodding to their essential accuracy. I am a person who seems to immediately ask "Wait, is that really true?  Lots of people say that, but what is the evidence for it?" I have moved over the years to saying "Sometimes a cliche obscures as much as it reveals."  There is one step beyond that, and I may be there already.  A cliche becomes popular because of what it obscures. Whatever minor truth it might reveal is simply a cost that the liars must pay.

The liars may not be aware or thought-out, they may just be moving in the direction that is protective, like plants slowly bending toward the sun. That's not quite the same thing as being innocent.  Cliches are not accidents.  They are embraced because they are useful, not because they are true.  It is one of the reasons I react so badly to Christian cliches.  It may be that there are many who need such things, or can only respond to the oversimplified and comfortable.  Still, I don't think we are all such fools as that.

When we say "God is love," aren't we often often using that truth to lie, to obscure his judgement, or to grant sanctity to romantic affection or even lust?


james said...

On a tangent WRT language obscuring thought: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascian_language
"Nevertheless, Gene Wolfe suggests that this concept doesn't work out like that. It is shown that intelligent Ascians are very well able to express, by means of approved sentences only, meanings that exceed those of the quoted sources. They simply quote sentences which have certain connotations, regardless of the actual meaning of the approved text."

Cliche in this sense is a pretty broad term, and is restricted to particular tribes--not the whole culture. I have never heard someone at work say "from my cold dead hands," but have outside the university.

Of course, for the inexperienced, cliches are just what they seem. For most of the rest of us, it seems as though they reflect at least part of a situation, and within a framework that makes it easy to understand.

stevo said...

One cliche I do not appreciate is "Catholic guilt" presumably being raised catholic makes one prone to unnecessary feelings of guilt. Never seen any evidence that this is true.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Especially as there is "Jewish guilt," blamable on the mothers, "Baptist/Fundamentalist guilt," attributable to hellfire-and-brimstone, "puritan guilt" related to hard work and fear of not measuring up, and "white guilt" in general. It seems that everyone who feels guilty wants to blame it on some larger group - which may explain more about their personality than they want to admit.

An excellent illustration stevo that the cliche may not be just an overused truth, its opposite may be just as true. And even, its opposite may be more true than the cliche. We might need more of these guilts to re-emerge in the world, not less.