Once upon a time, there were a few innovative phrases and metaphors that made authors’ work seem like a breath of fresh air. Those phrases made an impact that could’ve lasted an eternity, but you can have too much of a good thing. It was only a matter of time before those words ended up being done to death.

How many clichés could you identify in the sentences above? Did you find your eyes skimming through most of the words because you knew what would follow? Once you’ve found those clichés, here are some more that you should avoid… like the plague.


1) It was a dark and stormy night…

Definitely the most tired of the lot, this phrase was originally used to create an atmosphere of fear and urgency before a misdeed occurred. It now merely depicts the writer’s tired imagination.


2) Busy as a bee

Bees are now practically extinct in nature, but they still pop up in this character-defining phrase. I know “busy as an ant” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, but there’s still scope for better phrases involving hard-working creatures your readers have actually seen.


3) Against all odds

This has become a cliché both as a phrase as well as a foundational concept. A small-town nobody battling the aristocrats against all odds… it’s a phrase and concept seen in a million movies and books (David and Goliath, Rocky, Kung Fu Panda, and more). Move on!


4) A clean slate

Cliché - A Clean Slate

Wiping the slate clean, starting with a clean slate, etc. are other variations of the above term – all used to primarily indicate forgetting the past and starting anew. Nobody writes on slate these days, and it’s probably time this phrase was wiped off the slate too.


5) A chip off the old block

It’s an old, old block all right, and there are a million better ways to convey a child’s similarity to their father (rarely mother!). It’s high time this particular phrase was chipped right off your sentence.


6) Add insult to injury

Cliché - Insult to injury

A phrase that showed up in the 18th century, this particular cliché is all about rubbing salt into someone’s wounds. Or making an already humiliating situation worse. Either way, it’s time we retired this particular phrase!


7) Fresh as a daisy

It sounds too quaint to be used anymore, and the sun has definitely set on this phrase once and for all.


8) Calm before the storm

While this idiom might be pretty self-explanatory, there is a lot to be explained about how often it’s been abused by particularly dramatic writers. Not sure how many readers are going to remain calm if they come across these words again.


9) Live and let live

…..but let this phrase die?


10) All’s fair in love and war

Cliché - Love and war

Who decided that all was fair in the case of these two scenarios anyway? It’s basically a more ancient version of “It’s a dog eat dog world”, and seeing as we’re way past the Shakespearean age of ideals and courtship


11) Having the time of your life

Countless novels have been based on this idea as a theme, filled with blatant usage of this particular phrase as is (The Time of Your Life (movie), the song by Greenday, the play by William Saroyan – this list is neverending!). The cliché has transcended into movies and even millennial hashtags now which doesn’t help. Authors might be better off describing this actual time of their characters’ lives instead!

These phrases once delivered the intended effect, and for just that reason, they’ve been used so frequently that most readers are now immune to them. Use clichés only if you want readers to think you’ve got a lazy imagination.

Any concept can be made to shine with diverse vocabulary, so the next time you put fingers to keyboard, make sure you put that old whisky in a new decanter! (See what I did there?)