Clichés to Avoid

by , under Vocabulary, Writing skills

Second language speakers of English demonstrate an impressive familiarity with English when they use clichés in their speaking. Using common expressions shows people that you have been exposed to a lot of English in your life and suggests that you have achieved an intermediate level of proficiency. Nevertheless, advanced second language writers and first language writers who use clichés seem unimaginative and dull. But what is a cliché anyway?

What is a cliché?

A cliché is a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. It was once a lively and inventive phrase, but after it caught on it quickly became overused and tiresome.

What is the origin of the word “cliché?”

The word “cliché means to “clicked together.” It comes to us from before the year 1825 from the typesetting trade. Instead of having to set every letter separately, typesetters would keep frequently-occurring words and phrases in handy reusable blocks to speed up the job of typesetting a page.

A reusable block of letters

What is wrong with writing in clichés?

When people write in clichés, we wonder if they have chosen to express the idea that way or if that is the only way they know how to express the idea at all. Instead of being a sign of easy familiarity with English, we get the sense that the writer has never thought carefully about alternative phrasings.

Worse still is when the writer gets the cliché wrong and comes out with an eggcorn like doggy-dog world. That’s really annoying.

Here is a list of clichés to avoid

does not suffer fools gladly
a cautionary tale
a chip off the old block
a clean slate
a crisis waiting to happen
a dark and stormy night
a diamond in the rough
a far cry
a favorite Washington parlor game
a fine kettle of fish
a good soul
a kind soul
a land of contradictions
a loose cannon
a mass of contradictions
a matter of time
a modest proposal
a pain in the butt
a pain in the neck
a penny saved is a penny earned
A portrait emerges
a ragtag army
a ragtag militia
a tale of two
a tough row to hoe
a waste of time
a word to the wise
ace in the hole
ace up his sleeve
add insult to injury
afraid of his own shadow
against all odds
air your dirty laundry
all fun and games
all in a day’s work
all is fair in love and war
all is well that ends well
all talk
all thumbs
all your eggs in one basket
all’s fair in love and war
all’s well that ends well
almighty dollar
American as apple pie
an arm and a leg
an axe to grind
An object lesson
And here’s the kicker
and they all lived happily ever after
another day
another dollar
armed to the teeth
as a nation
as a society
as brave as a lion
as clever as a fox
as luck would have it
as meek as a lamb
as old as the hills
as old as the hills:
as old as time
as the crow flies
At a crossroads
at first blush
at first glance
at my wits end
At the end of the day
at the speed of light
avoid it like the plague
avoid like the plague
babe in the woods
back against the wall
back in the saddle
back to square one
back to the drawing board
bad to the bone
badge of honor
bald faced liar
ballpark figure
banging your head against a brick wall
baptism by fire
bark is worse than her bite
barking up the wrong tree
bat out of hell
be all and end all
Be that as it may
beat a dead horse
beat around the bush
bee in her bonnet
beggars can’t be choosers
begs the question
behind the eight ball
bend over backwards
benefit of the doubt
bent out of shape
best thing since sliced bread
bet your bottom dollar
better half
better late than never
better mousetrap
better safe than sorry
between a rock and a hard place
between the devil and the deep blue sea
beyond the pale
bide your time
big as life
big cheese
big fish in a small pond
big man on campus
bigger they are the harder they fall
bird in the hand
bird’s eye view
birds and the bees
birds of a feather flock together
bit the hand that feeds you
bite the bullet
bite the dust
bitten off more than he can chew
black as coal
black as pitch
black as the ace of spades
blast from the past
bleeding heart
blessing in disguise
blind ambition
blind as a bat
blind leading the blind
blood is thicker than water
blood sweat and tears
blow off steam
blow your own horn
blushing bride
boils down to
bone to pick
bored stiff
bored to tears
bottomless pit
boys will be boys
brave as a lion
bright and early
brings home the bacon
broad across the beam
broken record
Broken system
bull by the horns
bull in a china shop
burn the midnight oil
burning question
burning the candle at both ends
Burst onto the national political scene
burst your bubble
bury the hatchet
busy as a bee
but at the end of the day
But first
But reality is more complicated
but you can’t hide
by hook or by crook
Byzantine rules
call a spade a spade
Call it luck
called onto the carpet
calm before the storm
can of worms
can’t cut the mustard
can’t hold a candle to
case of mistaken identity
cat got your tongue
caught in the crossfire
caught red-handed
caught with her pants down
caught with his pants down
caught with their pants down
Cautiously optimistic
Charm offensive
Chattering classes
checkered past
chip on her shoulder
chip on his shoulder
Chock full
chomping at the bit
Christmas came early for
cleanliness is next to godliness
clear as a bell
clear as mud
close to the vest
Closely watched
cock and bull story
cold shoulder
come hell or high water
Contrary to popular belief
Cooler heads prevailed
cost a king’s ransom
count your blessings
crack of dawn
crash course
creature comforts
Creature of Washington
critics are quick to point out
Critics say
cross that bridge when you come to it
cry her eyes out
cry like a baby
cry me a river
crystal clear
Cue the
curiosity killed the cat
cut and dried
cut through the red tape
cut to the chase
cute as a bugs ear
cute as a button
cute as a puppy
cuts to the quick
Cycle of violence
dark before the dawn
day out day
dead as a doornail
Depending on whom you ask
devil is in the details
dime a dozen
divide and conquer
Dizzying array
dog and pony show
dog days
dog eat dog
dog tired
Don the mantle of
don’t burn your bridges
don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched
Don’t get me wrong
don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
don’t rock the boat
don’t step on anyone’s toes
don’t take any wooden nickels
done that been
Double down
down and out
down at the heels
down in the dumps
down on her luck
down on his luck
down on their luck
down the hatch
down to earth
draw the line
dressed to kill
dressed to the nines
drives me up the wall
dull as dishwater
dyed in the wool
eagle eye
ear to the ground
early bird catches the worm
earn her keep
earn his keep
earn their keep
easier said than done
easy as 1-2-3
easy as pie
eat your heart out
eat your words
eleventh hour
enough to piss off the Pope
even the playing field
every cloud has a silver lining
every dog has its day
every fiber of my being
everything but the kitchen sink
eye for an eye
eyes in the back of her head
Face-saving compromise
facts of life
fair weather friend
fall by the wayside
fall head over heals
fall head over heels
Fallen on hard times
fan the flames
feast or famine
feather in his cap
feather your nest
Feeding frenzy
feeding the frenzy
Fevered speculation
few and far between
fifteen minutes of fame
filthy vermin
fine kettle of fish
fish out of water
fishing for a compliment
fit as a fiddle
fit the bill
fit to be tied
flat as a pancake
flip your lid
flog a dead horse
fly by night
fly the coop
follow your heart
For all intents and purposes
for all intents and purposes
for the birds
for what it’s worth
force of nature
force to be reckoned with
forgive and forget
fox in the henhouse
free and easy
free as a bird
fresh as a daisy
frightened to death
full steam ahead
fun in the sun
garbage out garbage
get a kick out of
get a leg up
get down and dirty
get her back up
get his back up
get the lead out
get their backs up
get to the bottom of
get your feet wet
gets my goat
gilding the lily
give and take
go against the grain
go for broke
go him one better
go the extra mile
go with the flow
goes to Washington
goes without saying
Going forward
good as gold
good deed for the day
good things come to those who wait
good time was had by all
greek to me
green thumb
green-eyed monster
grist for the mill
Grizzled veteran
Growing body of evidence
growing like a weed
gut wrenching pain
hair of the dog
half a dozen of another
hand to mouth
happy as a clam
hasn’t a clue
haste makes waste
Hastily convened
have a nice day
have high hopes
have the last laugh
haven’t got a row to hoe
head honcho
hear a pin drop
heard it through the grapevine
heart’s content
heart-stopping fear
hem and haw
high and dry
high and mighty
high as a kite
hit paydirt
hold your head up high
hold your horses
hold your own
hold your tongue
honest as the day is long
Hope filled the air
horse of a different color
hot under the collar
Hot-button issue
Hotly contested
How did we get here?
How I learned to stop worrying and love the
I beg to differ
i love you more than life itself
icing on the cake
If history is any guide
if only the walls could talk
if only walls could talk
If past is prologue
if the shoe fits
if the shoe were on the other foot
If you will.
Ignominious end
in a jam
in a jiffy
In a nutshell
in a nutshell
in a pig’s eye
in a pinch
in a word
in her element
in his element
in hot water
in over her head
in over his head
In the digital age
In the final analysis
in the gutter
in the nick of time
in the thick of it
In the wake of
in their element
in this day and age
in your dreams
Inflection point
is all the rage
is heating up
is no exception
is no panacea
is no silver bullet
is not alone
it ain’t over till the fat lady sings
It couple
it goes without saying
it takes all kinds
it takes one to know one
it’s a small world
it’s only a matter of time
ivory tower
Jack of all trades
jockey for position
jog your memory
joined at the hip
judge a book by its cover
jump down your throat
jump in with both feet
jump on the bandwagon
jump the gun
jump to conclusions
just the ticket
justice is blind
Keen observer
keep a stiff upper lip
keep an eye on
keep it simple
keep the home fires burning
keep up with the Joneses
keep your chin up
keep your fingers crossed
kick his lights out
kick the bucket
kick up your heels
kick your feet up
kid in a candy store
kill two birds with one stone
kiss of death
knock his block off
knock it out of the park
knock on wood
knock your socks off
know him from Adam
know the ropes
know the score
knuckle down
knuckle sandwich
knuckle under
labor of love
land on your feet
lap of luxury
last but not least
last hurrah
Last-ditch effort
last-ditch effort
lasted an eternity
laughter is the best medicine
law of the jungle
law of the land
lay down the law
leaps and bounds
Less than you think
let sleeping dogs lie
let the cat out of the bag
let the good times roll
let your hair down
let’s talk turkey
letter perfect
lick your wounds
lies like a rug
life’s a bitch
life’s a grind
light at the end of the tunnel
lighter than a feather
lighter than air
like clockwork
like father like son
like taking candy from a baby
like there’s no tomorrow
lion’s share
live and learn
live and let live
long and short of it
long lost love
look before you leap
look down your nose
look what the cat dragged in
looks like death warmed over
loose cannon
lose your head
lose your temper
lost track of time
loud as a horn
lounge lizard
Love it or hate it
loved and lost
low hanging fruit
low man on the totem pole
luck of the draw
luck of the Irish
make hay while the sun shines
make lemonade
make money hand over fist
make my day
make no mistake
make the best of a bad situation
make the best of it
make your blood boil
man of few words
man’s best friend
Manicured lawns
mark my words
missed the boat on that one
moment in the sun
moment of glory
moment of truth
money to burn
more often than not
more power to you
more than one way to skin a cat
More than you think
movers and shakers
much ballyhooed
naked as a jaybird
naked truth
neat as a pin
Needless to say
needless to say
neither here nor there
never look back
never say never
nip and tuck
nip it in the bud
no action
no gain
no glory
no guts
no love lost
no pain
no skin off my back
no stone unturned
no time like the present
no use crying over spilled milk
Nondescript office building
nose to the grindstone
not a hope in hell
not a minute’s peace
Not as much as you think
not in my backyard
not playing with a full deck
Not so fast
Not so much
not the end of the world
not unsurprising
not written in stone
nothing to sneeze at
nothing ventured nothing gained
now we’re cooking
off the top of my head
off the wagon
off the wall
offers a rare window
Official Washington
old hat
older and wiser
older than dirt
older than Methuselah
on a roll
on cloud nine
on her high horse
on his high horse
on pins and needles
on steroids
on the bandwagon
on the money
on the nose
on the rocks
on the spot
on the tip of my tongue
on the wagon
on their high horse
On thin ice
on thin ice
once bitten
one bad apple
one born every minute
one brick short
one foot in the grave
one in a million
one red cent
only game in town
only half the battle
only time will tell
open a can of worms
open the flood gates
opens a rare window
opportunity doesn’t knock twice
opposites attract
Or so it seems
out of mind
out of pocket
out of sight
out of the frying pan into the fire
out of the woods
out on a limb
Outside the box
over a barrel
over the hump
pain and suffering
Palpable sense of relief
panic button
par for the course
Paradigm shift
part and parcel
Partisans on both sides
party pooper
pass the buck
patience is a virtue
pay through the nose
penny pincher
Perfect storm
perfect storm
pig in a poke
pile it on
pillar of the community
pin your hopes on
pitter patter of little feet
Pity the poor
plain as day
plain as the nose on your face
play by the rules
play your cards right
playing the field
playing with fire
pleased as punch
Plenty of blame to go around
plenty of fish in the sea
Point of no return
Political football
Political theater
poor as a church mouse
Poster child
pot calling the kettle black
power couple
Predawn raid
pull a fast one
pull your punches
pulling your leg
pundits say
pure as the driven snow
put one over on you
put the cart before the horse
put the pedal to the metal
put your best foot forward
put your foot down
quick as a bunny
quick as a lick
quick as a wink
quick as lightning
quiet as a dormouse
rags to riches
raining buckets
raining cats and dogs
Raise the specter of
Raised questions
Raises more questions than answers
rank and file
read between the lines
reap what you sow
red as a beet
red herring
reinvent the wheel
Remains to be seen
Resists easy categorization
Resists easy classification
rich and famous
rings a bell
ripped me off
rise and shine
Rise of the 24-hour news cycle
road to hell is paved with good intentions
rob Peter to pay Paul
roll over in the grave
Rorschach test
Rose from obscurity
rub the wrong way
running in circles
rushed for time
salt of the earth
scared out of her wits
scared out of his wits
scared out of my wits
scared out of one’s wits
scared out of their wits
scared stiff
scared to death
Scarred by war
sealed with a kiss
Searing indictment
seasoned veteran
second to none
see eye to eye
See what I did there?
seen the light
seismic shifts
seize the day
sent a shiver down my spine
set the record straight
set your teeth on edge
sharp as a tack
Shifting dynamics
Shines a spotlight on
shoot for the moon
shoot the breeze
shot in the dark
shoulder to the wheel
Shrouded in secrecy
shuttered the factory
sick as a dog
Sigh of relief
sigh of relief
Since time immemorial
sink or swim
skating on thin ice
Skittish donors
slept like a log
slinging mud
slippery as an eel
slow as molasses in January
smooth as a baby’s bottom
snug as a bug in a rug
some background
sow wild oats
spare the rod
Sparked debate
speak of the devil
spilled the beans
spinning your wheels
spitting image of
spoil the child
spoke with relish
spring to life
squeaky wheel gets the grease
stands out like a sore thumb
start from scratch
stick in the mud
still waters run deep
Stinging rebuke
stitch in time
stop and smell the roses
Strange bedfellows
straw that broke the camel’s back
strong as an ox
stubborn as a mule
stuff that dreams are made of
stuffed shirt
Suffice it to say
sweating blood
sweating bullets
system is broken
table the talks
take a load off
take one for the team
take the bait
take the bull by the horns
take the plunge
take the tiger by the tail
takes one to know one
takes two to tango
Tectonic shifts
Tenuous at best
that and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee
The argument goes
The devil is in the details
the more the merrier
The new face of
The new normal
The Other
The powers that be
The proverbial
the quiet before the storm
the real deal
the real McCoy
the red carpet treatment
the same old story
The situation is fluid
The social fabric
The talk of the town
The thinking goes
the time of my life
the tough get going
the very fabric of our
the wool over her eyes
the wool over his eyes
the wool over their eyes
the writing on the wall
There I said it
there is no accounting for taste
they all lived happily ever after
thick as a brick
thick as thieves
think outside of the box
think outside the box
third time’s the charm
this day and age
this hurts me worse than it hurts you
This is not your father’s
this point in time
three sheets to the wind
three strikes against
throw in the towel
tie one on
tighter than a drum
Tightly knit
time and time again
time heals all wounds
time is of the essence
time will tell
Time will tell if
tip of the iceberg
Tipping point
to each his own
to the best of my knowledge
toe the line
Tongues wagging
too good to be true
too hot to handle
too numerous to mention
Took to Twitter
touch with a ten foot pole
tough as nails
Trading barbs
trials and tribulations
tried and true
trip down memory lane
truth is more complicated
Turned a blind eye
twice shy
twist of fate
two cents worth
two peas in a pod
ugly as sin
under her thumb
under his thumb
under the counter
under the gun
under the same roof
Unlikely reformer
Unlikely revolutionary
Unsung hero
until the cows come home
unvarnished truth
up his sleeve
up the creek
up to his ears in trouble
uphill battle
upon deeper reflection
upper crust
upset the applecart
Usher in an era of
V for victory
vain attempt
vain effort
vanquish the enemy
vested interest
Victim of her own success
Victim of his own success
Wait for it
waiting for the other shoe to drop
wakeup call
War of words
warm welcome
watch your p’s and q’s
watch your tongue
watching the clock
water under the bridge
we love to hate
we’re not laughing at you we’re laughing with you
weak as a kitten
weather the storm
weed them out
week of Sundays
Well-heeled lobbyists
went belly up
wet behind the ears
What a difference a day makes
What a difference a month makes
What a difference a week makes
What a difference a year makes
what goes around comes around
what you see is what you get
when it rains it pours
when push comes to shove
when the cat’s away
when the going gets tough
when you have lemons
white as a sheet
White-shoe law firm
whole ball of wax
whole hog
whole nine yards
Wide-ranging interview
wild goose chase
will wonders never cease
wisdom of the ages
Withering criticism
without a care in the world
Woefully inadequate
wolf at the door
words fail me
work like a dog
world weary
worst nightmare
wrong side of the bed
yanking your chain
yappy as a dog
years young
you are what you eat
You guessed it
you only live once
you’re the boss
young and foolish
young and vibrant