Tom Spanbauer calls cliched words and imagery received text. I know this because of a great essay Chuck Palahniuk wrote about Amy Hempel and minimalism. I try to be very aware of received text (including dying metaphors) in my work and when I’m asked to read or edit others’. Sometimes this obsession spills over into daily life.
One time on a walk, my dog uncharacteristically opted for a fire hydrant. I said, “Come on, boy, you’re better than that.” He rolled his eyes and told me to get the bag ready.
The moral of the story: no one likes cliches or literary snobs. Gently excise received text from the work and thoughts of those you love…
“A dying metaphor is a derogatory term coined by George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language. Orwell defines a dying metaphor as a metaphor that isn’t dead (dead metaphors are different, as they are treated like ordinary words), but has been worn out and is used because it saves people the trouble of inventing an original phrase for themselves. In short, a cliché. Example: Achilles’ heel. Orwell suggests that writers scan their work for such dying forms that they have ‘seen regularly before in print’ and replace them with alternative language patterns.” (Wikipedia)
We need to say the things we need to say in ways that only we can say them.
Do you find yourself falling in with dying metaphors? Flee them! Even if you’re trying to be ironic. These are the among the things that drive you crazy about bad writing, so make sure you keep earning your right to be bothered: excise all those dated, dying metaphors from your writing.
I understand. It’s not like we use them on purpose. We all know better already. But they are tenacious. They are good ideas at 3 AM. They are placeholders for better, truer thoughts and more honest and beautiful images.
What are some of the worst overused metaphors (or similes) you’ve come across?