How to use clichés

The following was borrowed, without shame, from Seth’s Blog by Seth Godin.

I love this definition from Wikipedia:

In printing, a cliché was a printing plate cast from movable type. This is also called a stereotype. When letters were set one at a time, it made sense to cast a phrase used repeatedly as a single slug of metal. “Cliché” came to mean such a ready-made phrase. The French word “cliché” comes from the sound made when the matrix is dropped into molten metal to make a printing plate.

To save time and money, then, printers took common phrases and re-used the type.

Along the way, they trained us to understand the image, the analogy, the story. Hear it often enough and you remember it. That training has a useful purpose. Now, you can say ‘Festivus’ or ‘There is no I in team…” or “that took real courage” when describing a golf shot, and we immediately get it. Monty Python took a cliché about the Spanish Inquisition and made it funny by making it real. The comfy chair!

The effective way to use a cliché is to point to it and then do precisely the opposite. Juxtapose the cliché with the unexpected truth of what you have to offer. Apple does this all the time. They point out the cliché of a laptop or a desktop or an MP3 player and then they turn it upside down. Richard Branson takes the expected boredom of a CEO and turns it upside down by doing things you don’t expect.

I often use the Encyclopedia of Clichés to find clichés that then inspire opposites. It’s a secret weapon and it’s all yours now. Have fun.

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