Lost in Cliches

So, what exactly would be considered a cliché? How is it different from using slang?

cliché: A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.


slang: A kind of language occurring chiefly in casual and playful speech, made up typically of coinages and figures of speech that are deliberately used in place of standard terms for added raciness, humor, irreverence, or other effect.


Phrases fall in and out of our vocabulary constantly.  Whazzzup? Wicked. Fab. Delish.  Colder than a witch’s tit in a snowbank ( I never understood why it had to be a witch). Duh. Gotta bounce.

Are all of these considered cliché? Or only certain  ones?Are they slang–can they be both? And how do we know? It does seem that slang is playful, while cliches are tired and sad.  Is length of time that the phrase is used, or the general overuse? Can a cliché from the 1800s be used in 2015 and no longer be considered cliché because it seems fresh again? Plus, clichés can be regional. Maybe you don’t worry about a witch’s breasts in Fl or Ca. Maybe they are hot there–hotter than a witch’s tit in lava?

 I don’t know the answers to these questions. If you do, please let me know!


Meanwhile, after getting the hairy eyeball (slang or cliché?) from the dogs after I highlighted horses last week, I decided to go with a canine edition this week.

Never Pet a Burning Dog: if something looks dangerous, don’t ignore the danger and dive right in. Finding the origin on this one was difficult. Many people thought it came from HBO’s Generation Kill, as it was used in an episode–The Burning Dog. But it’s older than that, definitely as far back as the 1970s. It does seem to be a military phrase and most used within a military setting.

My Dogs are Barking: my feet are tired. We have all heard this one, right? Apparently it got it’s start in England, especially in the Cockney region. Using Cockney grammar it should read, “Me dogs is barking.” In the early 1900’s Cockney slang rhymed until the word you used was exceedingly difficult to figure out how it related to the word you meant.  So, if your feet were ‘barking mad’, barking mad=bad in rhyming slang. Thus, ‘My feet are barking (mad) = ‘My feet are bad’. Just don’t ask me why your feet were barking mad in the first place.

To Go to the Dogs: to become run down, to lose one’s former quality. This one I found on one lovely website, so I didn’t have to piece it together. I thought it was an interesting origin story too:

The origin of this expression is believed to be in ancient China where dogs, by tradition, were not permitted within the walls of cities. Consequently, stray dogs roamed the areas outside the city walls and lived off the rubbish thrown out of the city by its inhabitants. Criminals and social outcast were often expelled from cities and were sent to live among the rubbish – and the dogs. Such people were said to have “gone to the dogs”, both literally in that that was where they were now to be found, and metaphorically in the sense that their lives had taken a distinct turn for the worse.*

You Lie Like a Dog: you lie consistently and constantly. It’s considered a pun, using the two meanings of lie. One, to lay down, which we all know our puppies like to do. Endlessly, in the sun. Two, to tell an untruth. Which I don’t think dogs would ever do. Sadly, I couldn’t find any history on this. I don’t know where it came from or when. I may have to revisit this one.

I think it is odd that most of these canine clichés seem negative.  Even others, like lay down with dogs and rise up with fleas, let sleeping dogs lie, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, are peculiarly  unpleasant. And yet dogs are known as man’s best friend. They are fuzzy and loyal and loving. Why the bad rap? Seems a bit unfair to me!

That puppy isn’t going anywhere without his person!




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