Revive, resurrect or reimagine a cliché
Call it a cliché makeover.
Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, breathes new life into old, worn-out phrases in a letter to shareholders. His secret: extending the original metaphor the cliché was based on:
By extending the cliché sleep easy at night with mattress, Buffett gives this tired phrase new life. (Back story: Berkshire reinsured Equitas so its “names,” or underwriters, don’t have to worry about huge claims bankrupting the firm and themselves):
Reinvent a cliche.
A.G. Edwards uses this technique in its “nest egg” ad series. The investment firm reinvents one of my least-favorite clichés by making it visual and extending it as far as it can go. One result: a Silver Anvil award.
Instead of eliminating your next cliché, see if you can take it further. By doing so, you might just resurrect it.
Refresh a cliche.
You might also try refreshing a cliche. To refresh a cliche:
- Circle all the clichés in your message
- Refresh them by writing a new ending
Get inspiration from this list. Story goes that it was created when a first-grade teacher collected clichés and asked her students to come up with new endings for tired cliches.
|A miss is as good as a …||Mr.|
|A penny saved is …||not much|
|An idle mind is …||the best way to relax|
|Better late than …||pregnant|
|Better safe than …||punch a fifth-grader|
|Children should be seen and not …||spanked or grounded|
|Don’t bite the hand that …||looks dirty|
|Don’t put off till tomorrow what …||you put on to go to bed|
|Happy the bride who …||gets all the presents|
|If at first you don’t succeed …||get new batteries|
|If you lie down with dogs, you’ll …||stink in the morning|
|It’s always darkest before …||Daylight Savings Time|
|Love all, trust …||me|
|Never underestimate the power of …||termites|
|No news is …||impossible|
|Strike while the …||bug is close|
|The pen is mightier than the …||pigs|
|Two’s company, three’s …||the Musketeers|
|Where there’s smoke there’s …||pollution|
|You can lead a horse to water but …||how?|
|You can’t teach an old dog new …||math|
|You get out of something only what you …||see in the picture on the box|
You don’t have to be George Carlin to pull this off. Hey! If a group of first-graders can do it, imagine how engaging your “new clichés” will be.
More ways to revive a cliché
In a Newsweek article about new TV shows, Devin Gordon writes:
It’s dangerous to make broad generalizations about TV versus film without sounding like you’re comparing apples and tubas, but let’s do it anyway.
This technique is called “Twist a cliche.” To do that, sub out a traditional word in the cliché for a new one.
Instead of dog tired, for instance, ask, “Who else is really tired? New mothers? People working double shifts? Hospital interns?”
Here are four more ways to breathe new life into old, worn-out phrases:
- Reverse a cliché. Replace a key word in the cliché with one that means the opposite. One character on “The Closer,” for instance, “compliments” another on a eulogy: “There wasn’t a wet eye in the house.”
- Combine clichés. Put two clichés together to create a fresh phrase. Lyrics to one “Flight of the Conchords” song, for instance, go, “The fork in the road cuts like a knife.”
- Flip a cliché. RevUpReadership.com member Connie Gotsch writes: “How about saying to someone, ‘With enemies like you who needs friends?’ I did that and the person did a double take and then fell over laughing.”
- Twist a cliche. Go through the letters of the alphabet to change the word. Or rearrange the letters in the word. Or add an incorrect word or phrase. Or substitute a double-entendre for a common word.
Resources for reinventing cliches
Want to flip or reinvent a phrase? Try these resources:
Expand your topic words
- OneLook Reverse Dictionary: Know the definition, but not the word? Need to generate a list of words in a category? Just looking for some help with The New York Times’ crossword puzzle? Look no further.
- RhymeZone: Find words that rhyme, synonyms or antonyms, related words and more. Or get your creative juices flowing by skimming words coined by Shakespeare, Mother Goose lyrics, useful quotations and other inspiring features.
- Visual Thesaurus: This thesaurus presents search results as a series of three-dimensional maps of connotative associations.
Find phrases to twist
- Amazon’s Hot New Releases: Bestselling new and future releases on Amazon.com, updated hourly. Twist these top-of-mind titles.
- Cliché Finder: Type in your key words and get familiar phrases to twist.
- Internet Movie Database: Find movie titles to twist.
- Phrase Thesaurus: Simply plug in a key word from your article, and Phrase Thesaurus lists conventional phrases for you to twist.
- Lyrics: Get lyrics for twisting.
Find quotes to twist
- BrainyQuote: Find 45,000 famous quotes by 5,000 authors, from Aristotle to Zappa.
- Fagan Finder’s Quotations and Proverbs Search: Search 50 quote sites — from the biggies, like Bartleby, to lesser-known ones, such as Mathematical Quotations Server and Psycho Proverb Zone. If you can’t find it here, it’s hard to imagine that you can find it anywhere.
- The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where and When: Confirm that you’ve got the right quote by the right source