March 23, 2019

Rethinking Clichés

“One thing is certain about clichés: you wouldn’t be caught dead using them. They are widely scorned as signs of debased thought, a lack of imagination and the absence creativity. Thankfully, if you reflect for just a moment on something you’re about to say or write, you can usually avoid falling into the trap. Or can you?

By ‘cliché’, I mean an overused and trite means of expression, ranging from tired sayings to worn-out narratives – things that are much more common in our writing and speech than we assume, or are willing to admit. While we tend to condemn clichés harshly, the scholar of rhetoric Ruth Amossy at Tel Aviv University has shown that they’re in fact crucial to the way we bond with and read other human beings. ‘How have you been?’ – ‘Not bad at all!’: in our daily interactions, clichés represent a communicative common ground, by avoiding the need to question or establish the premises of speech. They are a kind of a shared mental algorithm that facilitates efficient interaction and reaffirms social relationships.

So when did the cliché become such a sin of human communication, a mark of simple minds and mediocre artists? Awareness of the shortcomings of conventionality is certainly not new. Since antiquity, critics have pointed out the weakness of trite language patterns, and used them as fodder for biting parodies. Socrates, for example, was an expert in mocking and unmasking empty, automatic conventions. In Plato’s dialogue Menexenus, he gives a long, mock funeral oration, parodying memorial clichés that overpraise the dead and provide justifications for their loss. Much later, Miguel de Cervantes’s character Don Quixote is captive within the heroic clichés of medieval chivalric-romances, which cause him to fight imagined enemies (thus creating the still-in-use ‘tilting at windmills’ cliché). William Shakespeare in Sonnet 130 wittily rejected the use of clichéd similes to praise one’s beloved (eyes like the Sun, cheeks as roses), stressing the banality and inauthenticity of such ‘false compare’.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"Historic buildings and structures dating from the Byzantine era to the 20th century have been subjected to disastrous restorations in recent years here, prompting public outcry and fostering a cynical attitude toward planned projects."

"Fox News, normally the object of presidential praise on Twitter, was subjected to an unusual tweet-lashing over the weekend when the president went after three of its anchors."

"Opinion: I am not willing to cast a ballot for this current crop of scandal-mongers, gossips and PR-obsessed dilettantes who are tearing the country apart - don't we deserve better?"

"Listening to The Joe Rogan Experience is sort of like crashing an intense, intimate dinner party in which the only courses are whiskey and weed."

"At the Jewish Museum in London called “Jews, Money, Myth.” The show explores the ways in which Jews have been associated with money over the past 2,000 years."

"Footage of last week’s massacre in New Zealand, which the shooter streamed in real time via Facebook Live, quickly proliferated. The original 17-minute webcast was viewed fewer than 200 times and wasn’t immediately reported, Facebook says."

"When I hear that Jews are too powerful, my response is, we are not powerful enough. When I hear that AIPAC is too influential a lobby, I say it must become even more influential."

"Lost in migration: When Walter Benjamin fled France in 1940, he took a heavy black suitcase. Did it contain a typescript? Where is it now?"

"Someday my daughter will be asked if she wants to have a bat mitzvah. I’m inclined to let her make up her own mind... It's a lot of work to learn Hebrew, memorize parts of the Torah and prepare for a pressure-packed performance at such a young age."

"Tablet's Unorthodox Podcast: Gail Simmons, Shalom Auslander, Jill Kargman, Gil Hovav, and more on the Jewish foods that mean the most to them."

""Hitting someone is a foundational moral violation," Yale University Psychologist Paul Bloom wrote in a comment to the paper. "Indeed, these sorts of physical infractions are found to be morally wrong by the youngest babies we can test."

" Ilhan Omar in particular has garnered attention for tweets widely viewed by the Jewish community as trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes. The result has been the most media coverage of anti-Semitism in a decade..."