Cliches, Part 1 of 3

There are tons of cliche phrases, and many contradicting ones.  Cliches lack originality and stifle creativity. They’ve been used sooo much that they’ve lost their original meaning, or they’re meaning is at least watered down.  It is a phrase that was once original, but now has been used, used and used to the point of….well….overuse.

Everyone from writers to salespeople to coaches are advised by their fields’ experts to use these suckers sparingly because the reader, consumer, or athlete naturally tunes them out.  In fact, the fallacious argumentative tactic known as rhetorical evasion is “when a cliche is rhetorically introduced as a substitute for an actual argument.”  Cliches tend to render your persuasive effort useless.

So, do we reap what we sow?  Or is it more true that everything that’s meant to happen will happen?  I think we need to be careful what cliches we allow ourselves to use in our inner dialogues- the things we say to yourself in our heads.  They could be to make you feel better, or to justify what you are-or aren’t- doing.  Psychological research has found that inner dialog, consciously or not, affects our behavior.  Here’s some interesting info on it: http://www.successconsciousness.com/index_00002b.htm  Using cliches in our inner dialogue may be damaging in ways we don’t even realize.

In the 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, the brain washing power of thought terminating cliches was introduced.  A thought terminating cliche is a

“commonly used phrase, or folk wisdom, sometimes used to quell cognitive dissonance. Though the clichéd phrase in and of itself may be valid in certain contexts, its application as a means of dismissing dissent or justifying fallacious logic is what makes it thought-terminating.”

So, thought terminating cliches are cliches that stop us from actually analyzing an argument. And they work so well that the Chinese used them to brainwash their poor subjects!

There are more examples of this phenomenon, too.  In the classic George Orwell novel 1984 about the socialistic oppression of mankind, the newly mandated language Newspeak only allowed specific new words- which became cliches to the speakers- to “entirely eliminate the ability to express unorthodox thoughts.”

Doesn’t sound like something you want to voluntarily do in your own life, does it?  So let’s examine the issue a bit more.  Here are some thought terminating cliche examples from the Wikipedia page, to start with:

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “Don’t judge.”
  • “Why? Because I said so.” (Bare assertion fallacy)
  • “I’m the parent, that’s why.” (Appeal to authority).
  • “When you get to be my age you’ll find that’s not true.”
  • “You don’t always get what you want.”
  • “You win some, you lose some.”
  • “Ah well, swings and roundabouts.”
  • “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.” (Appeal to ridicule if said sarcastically)
  • “It works in theory, but not in practice.” (Base rate fallacy)
  • “It’s just common sense.”
  • “It makes sense to me, and that’s all that matters.”
  • “To each his own.”
  • “Life is unfair.”
  • “Such is life.”
  • “We already had this conversation.”
  • “It is what it is.”
  • “It was his time.”
  • “Whatever.”
  • “There you go again.”
  • “It’s not worth discussing.”
  • “Whatever will be, will be.”
  • “Be a man and…”
  • “Who cares?”
  • “It’s a matter of opinion!”
  • “You only live once.” (YOLO)
  • “Just forget it.”
  • “We will have to agree to disagree.”
  • “We all have to do things we don’t like.”
  • “You are not being a ‘team player’.” (Ignoratio elenchi)
  • “That’s just wrong.”
  • “You just don’t do that.”
  • “Just do it.”
  • “Link or it didn’t happen.”
  • “Don’t be that guy.”
  • “Because that is our policy.”
  • “Don’t be silly.”
  • “There’s no smoke without fire.” (used to convince others that a person is guilty based on accusation or hearsay and to discourage further examination of evidence)
  • “I’m just sayin’.”
  • “So it goes.”
  • “Me thinks thou dost protest too much.” or “The more you argue, the less we believe you.”
  • “Rules are rules.”
  • “Who do you think you are?”/”Who are you to…”
  • “It’s all relative.”
  • “People are going to do what they want.”
  • “That’s just your feelings.”
  • “Can’t everybody just drop it and get along?” (used as an attempt to stop an ongoing debate or argument)
  • “It’s the way of the road.”
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