Clichés, Dead Metaphors and some Alternatives

In a recent blog, we looked at clichés and overused (or dead) metaphors and their origins (see https://editors4you.com.au/cliches-and-overused-metaphors/). In this blog we look at the same topic, but with a twist – clichés, dead metaphors and some alternatives.

As mentioned in the above blog, clichés and overused metaphors can negatively affect the impact of your writing. Using alternatives should help to improve your work.

Orwell’s Rules

When thinking of clichés, dead metaphors and some alternatives, George Orwell’s rules – from his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language – come to mind. These rules can be applied to a variety of genres and writing styles. The main rule that ties into this blog is the first one.

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech you are used to seeing in print
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Love the last one!

Considering the first and fifth rules, clichés and dead metaphors can easily be replaced by everyday language.

Starting with clichés, you’ll find below some alternatives to the examples from the previous blog that you could consider using.

Bite the bullet

Instead, you could use: endure, face, bear with. Here are some example sentences.

Example with cliché: Jamie decided to bite the bullet and go to the dentist.

Alternatives to that sentence could be:

Jamie decided to endure her fear and go to the dentist.

Jamie chose to face her fears and go to the dentist.

Jamie made up her mind to bear with her fears and go to the dentist.

Turn a blind eye

Alternatives to this cliché you could use include: pretend/choose not to notice, purposely ignore, neglect, overlook, refuse to notice.

Example with cliché: Belinda turns a blind eye to their wrongdoings.

Alternatives to that sentence include:

Belinda pretends not to notice their wrongdoings.

Belinda purposely ignores their wrongdoings.

Belinda neglects to notice their wrongdoings.

Belinda deliberately overlooks their wrongdoings.

Paint the town red

Alternatives to this cliché include: celebrate, have a good time, party, go out.

Example with cliché: Last night, Alice and her friends painted the town red.

Alternatives:

When Alice and her friends went out last night, they celebrated.

Alice and her friends had a good time out last night.

Last night, Alice and her friends partied.

Alice and her friends went out last night.

photo of red buildings for post cliches, dead metaphors and some alternatives
Instead of painting the town red, go out and party, have a jolly good time, celebrate!

By and large

Alternatives to by and large you could consider using are: everything considered, as a whole, generally.

Example with cliché: The poor were, by and large, hard-working people.

Alternatives:

Everything considered, the poor were hard-working people.

The poor were, as a whole, hard-working people.

The poor were generally hard-working people.

Give the cold shoulder

Alternative wording you could use instead of give the cold shoulder include: ignore, avoid, disregard, dismiss.

Example with cliché: All week, Gavin gave his co-workers the cold shoulder.

Alternatives:

All week, Gavin ignored his co-workers.

Gavin avoided his co-workers all week.

All week, Gavin disregarded his co-workers.

Gavin dismissed his co-workers all week.

Ball’s in your court

Alternative phrases you could use instead of ball’s in your court include: it’s up to you, it’s your choice.

Example with cliché: The ball’s in your court now.

Alternatives:

It’s up to you now.

It’s your choice now.

Can of worms

Instead of using can of worms, alternatives to consider include: problematic, unpleasant, difficult.

Example with cliché: The situation opened a can of worms.

Alternatively, you could use:

The situation was problematic to talk about.

It was an unpleasant situation.

The situation was difficult to talk about.

Now, let’s take a look at alternatives to overused (dead) metaphors.

Life is a journey

Alternatives to consider: many (different) experiences, ups and downs.

Example with overused metaphor: Life is a journey.

Alternatives:

Life consists of many different experiences.

Life has its ups and downs.

Love is a battlefield

Alternatives to consider include: ups and downs, can be difficult.

Example with overused metaphor: They had always been told love was a battlefield.

Alternatively, you could use:

They had always been told love had its ups and downs.

They had always been told love could be difficult.

Laughter is the best medicine

Alternative phrases to laugher is the best medicine to consider include: laughter improves your mood, laughter helps with healing.

Example with overused metaphor: Her parents used to tell her laugher was the best medicine.

Alternatively:

Her parents used to tell her laughter would improve her mood.

Her parents used to tell her laugher would help her heal.

Time is money

Instead of time is money, alternatives you could use include: don’t waste time, use time wisely.

Example with overused metaphor: Their boss tells them repeatedly time is money.

Alternatives:

Their boss tells them repeatedly not to waste time.

Their boss repeatedly tells them to use their time wisely

Achilles heel

Alternatives to Achilles heel you could consider using include: weakness, weak spot, vulnerability, vulnerable spot.

Example with overused metaphor: His fear of heights was his Achilles heel.

Alternative sentences:

His weakness was a fear of heights.

His fear of heights was a weak spot.

One of his vulnerabilities was a fear of heights.

His fear of heights was a vulnerable spot.

Laughing-stock

Instead of laughing-stock, alternatives to consider using include: joke, object of mockery, target.

Example with overused metaphor: Fred had always been the laughing-stock of the school.

Alternatives:

Fred had always been the joke of the school.

The object of mockery at school had always been Fred.

At school, Fred had always been the target of jokes.

Naturally, the examples in this blog, Clichés, Dead Metaphors and some Alternatives, give only some of the possibilities you could use. It just takes a little thought and a little awareness when you’re writing to avoid overused phrases. Go a bit crazy. Be creative and experiment. Just remember to keep in mind George Orwell’s rule about breaking rules: ‘Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous!’

Acknowledgements

Collins Dictionary 2020, A Can of Worms, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/a-can-of-worms

Kwan, M 2020, Examples of Dead Metaphors, https://examples.yourdictionary.com/reference/examples/examples-of-dead-metaphors.html

Lepki, L 2019, The Internet’s Best List of Clichéshttps://prowritingaid.com/art/21/List-of-Clich%C3%A9s.aspx 

Wikipedia 2020, Politics and the English Language, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_and_the_English_Language

IMAGES

Red building photo by Artem Saranin from Pexels

Black and white photo Pixabay


Credit for this blog goes to my intern from the University of the Sunshine Coast, Hannah Daylight. Thanks again, Hannah!


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