Why do some words come across as more clichéd than others?

By: | Post date: 2016-10-11 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

Most metaphors, we’d like to assume, were new once. (Likely not all of them: cognitive metaphor is tied up with cognition.)

Some new metaphors, or figurative speech, or just plain collocations, become popular. Others do not.

Some of those popular collocations become so popular, they become entirely conventional and characteristic of a genre. And in most cultures, that’s actually a good thing. These are familiar, comforting signals. They are shortcuts to thinking, for the speaker and the reader both. They are not surprising or vivid or thought provoking, which they may well have been once; but that’s ok.

However there are genres, and more importantly cultures, in which ongoing vividness and punchiness are valued more than familiarity and conventionality. Those are the genres and cultures that decry cliches. And when a particular expression becomes conventional and familiar, they value seeking out other expressions, that are not yet conventional and familiar.

Remember: most cliches started out as novel.

Why are some words clichéd? Because in those genres, they have become the victims of their own success.

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