Wednesday’s Words: The Proverbial Cliché

The only writer worse than one who falls back on clichés is one who prefaces the cliché with “proverbial.” That construct has been used so often it has become a cliché in itself. Even worse, it draws attention to the writer. It says that the writer is too lazy to come up with something original, but he or she knows it’s a cliché, so it’s okay.

No, it’s not okay. I admit that sometimes only a cliché will work, like the tip of the iceberg; it’s almost impossible to come up with another metaphor for something that is mostly unseen with only a bit showing. But if you are going to use a cliché, use it proudly. Don’t hide behind the mealy-mouthed “proverbial.”

In the past few months, I’ve come across:

The proverbial iceberg
The proverbial whipped puppy
Capture the proverbial brass ring
Out like the proverbial light
Bite the proverbial bullet
Kick the proverbial bucket
Shining like the proverbial beacon
Deer in the proverbial headlights
Proverbial duck to water
Wither on the proverbial vine
Needle in the proverbial haystack
Sleep like the proverbial top
The proverbial red herring
The proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan
The proverbial proverb

Okay, so I didn’t see the last one, but at the rate authors are tossing “proverbial” our way, it’s only a matter of time.

Note: all of these proverbial clichés were found in books by brand name writers. Another example of don’t do as they do.


About the author

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I, all available from Amazon and Second Wind Publishing, LLC. Watch for Light Bringer coming in March, 2011.

»» 6 Responses to “Wednesday’s Words: The Proverbial Cliché” »»
  1. Frank says:

    The idea is that using proverbial will somehow freshen it up, give the cliche new life. English language, as is true of most other things, has gone into decline. One day, or it could take a century or longer, there will be a Reformation from this Dark Age. It goes that was, cycles.

    • Vlado says:

      Pat, if you want to do a weekly faeutre, we’ll set it up as its own category and you can use that category when posting those articles. And we’d reserve that category for only those articles. If someone else wanted to do that faeutre one week or you wanted a break, they can just use the same category. You could also incorporate the title of the faeutre, or part of it, into the title of each article.A faeutre could be on any topic you’d like. Recipes, training cats, dealing with the opposite sex. It can be funny or instructive, whatever moves you.You could do a weekly faeutre and still post other articles when you want to.

    • Hamza says:

      OK, I found you! What a cool idea! I’m trying to diedce if I can commit to something(or if I should just be committed! LOL!) Let me ponder a bit. And I’m excited to see what folks come up with (or should that be I’m excited to see with what folks come up ? Is there any way to end that sentence withOUT a preposition? There, you have your first writing question!)

    • Pramath says:

      I am a scoutmaster of a local Virginia LDS troop (not atiendtng the Jamboree) that would like the troop to attend the LDS sacrament meeting at 9 am on Sunday, August 1st. Since visitor hours are not until 1 pm on Sunday, can we attend or not?

    • Lore says:

      I am seventy-one years old and pueslihbd my first book in July 2012 through Dog Ear Publishing (a self-publishing company). They were great!I am a passionate baseball fan. The Best Season The First Ninety Games honors Black Ball (segregated baseball) through baseball game simulation.Bob May

  2. Frank says:

    ….goes that “way” (my typo).

    With the exception of science and medicine, the world today is far worse off that it was 100 years ago.