The Marine View Driver: Of Clichés, Metaphors and Things Like That

Wherein the author vents a private peeve.

By Mike SmithRoald Dahl

I have a friend who likes to garden. She is quite thorough and conscientious about her gardening. She will spend hours a day digging out weeds a couple of feet down in order to get all the roots. She talks to herself constantly, too, reminding herself of this or that or scolding herself when she does something “dumb.”

She is quite a serious person. She doesn’t tell jokes, nor does she engage in a lot of goofing around. She is a people person, to use a metaphor, but visiting via conversation is a serious endeavor for her. One that requires the hearers undivided attention. Mainly because she does all the talking.  I don’t mind that she is that way. The one thing I don’t like about her, though, is her use of metaphors.

One day I was walking by where she had just planted some flowers and commented that they looked good there. She said, “Oh yes, they love it here.” I thought that was sort of a funny comment coming from her, given her predilection for pragmatism. So I kind of laughed. She turned to me and said, “I am not joking!”

I asked, “What about now?”

She asks, “What?”

To her the metaphor (figure of speech), an anthropomorphism of her flowers, was not a figure of speech (metaphor). It was emphasis. It was self-evident. Despite the fact that flowers can’t feel; they are living, but they don’t have emotions. Which, her being pragmatic, I certainly assumed she understood. But she did not see her statement as a figure of speech. It meant what it meant.

Psychologists call this a conceptual metaphor. And well they should! I simply find it uncomfortable. And a sure-fire conversation ender.

Clichés are another particularly smelly form of metaphor. A cliché is a figure of speech that, due to overusage, becomes practically meaningless or of a different meaning than its original use.

Sometimes falsely referred to as colloquialisms, clichés are signally odious to me. As Ambrose Bierce, the author and one of my personal favorites, wrote when describing the art of the author (or at least the way I remember reading it): If you’ve read it in print, or heard it in a speech, don’t use it again. Which is another way of describing a cliché. Not only is it plagiarism. Chances are if you’ve read it somewhere it is already becoming cliché. I hate clichés, but unfortunately we live in a world where most people speak in nothing but.

For instance, “Wassup?” was pretty funny and effective the first time I heard it. But say that to your friends now…while you remove  your cape and Nehru jacket.

Or one of my least favorites is: “Know what I’m saying?”

I had a conversation with a person one time who gave me this long diatribe about something at work which I didn’t understand. His monologue was filled with all sorts of esoteric misconceptions and personal opinions. When he was finished he said, “Know what I’m sayin’?”

I responded with, “No, I don’t know what you’re saying.”


I said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

He replied, in a way to explain himself, “Dude, everybody knows it.”

In other words, what he tried to say was to him self-evident. “Know what I’m sayin’?” is simply the assertion to close the argument. He was using a cliché as an assertion. He considered his statement utterly true, and he ended with a  “Ta-Dah!”, case closed. I didn’t know what he was saying, and he thought I didn’t hear the closing argument which is another way of saying “See? Everybody agrees with this.”

I have a little formula for this: [Cliché < Truism]. A cliché is not an argument any more than it is proof of an idea.

I sometimes find it hard to communicate with people like this. Part of it is my aversion to over-used speech–clichés, and the chutzpah that assumes one’s opinion is universally held.

Essentially what I see happening in everyday conversation is that these literary devices or rhetorical methods have become no longer a way to emphasize a point, no longer reveal an idea in a more convincing way; they have instead become the convincing way. They no longer reveal anything. They are simply nouns. Things.

Like “A song with no title, just words and a tune,” to quote Sir Elton John.

I don’t want to discourage anyone. I love having conversations, I like writing. I like to improve in both skills. It is important to me to be a good conversationalist. Being an improving writer is also important.

But, not being a jerk is probably paramount. So, say all you want, metaphors or not. I’ll listen. I won’t correct you. You may have to be patient with me, though. I’m like a foreigner in my own land.

There–I just used another metaphor, a simile. Describing something is “like” something else in order to give a deeper understanding.

Know what I’m sayin’?

Share Your Opinion

By participating in our online comment system, you are agreeing to abide by the terms of our comment policy.

...and oh, if you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!