Category Archives: Cliches

Cliche Stories

So I missed last week. I’m going with the “crazy season” as my excuse. I felt run ragged, and, honestly, I just couldn’t find a cliche I liked. You’ll notice this one was way near the bottom of all the lists–starting with ‘Cu’ as it does. But I finally found it, so here we are…..


“Well, aren’t you just as cute as a bugs ear!”

Sheila smiled politely as she maneuvered the tray onto the table before adjusting the table over the old man’s bed. Cute as a bug’s ear? Was that a compliment? She pondered as she reached over to adjust the pillows so he could sit up and eat.

A compliment, Sheila decided as she looked at his frail weight resting on the pillows as he began to slurp his soup. He was just so nice, she thought. There were stories circulating the nursing home about his past, but she didn’t believe any of them.

“Is that a saying from Texas?” she asked him.

He froze, carefully placing his spoon on the tray before looking at her. “Why do you ask that?”

“Oh, I thought I heard you were from Texas,” Sheila replied carelessly as she folded new towels for him. “One of the girls out front said something.”

“Why?” she asked, turning to face him. He was suddenly more alert, sitting away from pillows and moving the table away from the bed before swinging his legs over the side.

“Oh, Mr. Smith, you should really stay in bed! Is there anything I can get you?” Sheila cried.

“No, you have helped me greatly already. I think you should go now, before…”

Even as he spoke, Sheila heard the door open. Several men entered, led by a dapper little man. Backing up in apparent fright, Sheila slowly reached behind her and pushed the button for security before clasping her hands tightly in front of her.

“I was right,” Mr Smith said, “you are acute as a bug.”


as cute as a bug’s ear: as cute as can be. Many  clichés are similes, where something is like something else. But a bug’s ear being cute? Where did that come from? It is said to be from Texas in late 1800s, and even there they don’t have any particularly attractive ones. However, bugs ears can be said to be ‘acute’, in that they can hear a very high frequency, or very soft sounds. In the 1700s, ‘cute’ was a synonym for ‘acute’–

Nathan Bailey defined it in The Universal Etymological English Dictionary, 1731, as:

Cute: sharp, quick-witted, shrewd.*

It crossed the ocean to America and was used with that meaning by James Russell Lowell–

Aint it cute to see a Yankee Take sech everlastin’ pains?
                    The Biglow Papers, 1848

In the late 1800s, cute began to refer to being adorable or pretty instead of sharpness or acuity, and the phrase lost common understanding as to why a bug’s ear would be so cute….or why someone would think that would be a compliment.






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Cliche Stories

“I don’t like her name,” I said flatly.

“Huh?” Mom said.

“Charlotte. A nice name by itself, but you know we are going to end up calling her Char like Kathy did. It’s just easier to call when you want her, but I don’t like it,” I reiterated.

“Or holler when she steps on our feet, ” I added. The horse had no idea where she ended and we started. Made for a lot of bumping. “In fact, I think I’m going to give her a middle name. So when we are really irritated  we can yell it out, like you did when I was young.”

Mom laughed. “Like I haven’t done that recently! What’s wrong with Char?”

“It sounds harsh.”

She sighed, and we went back brushing the horses.

The next day she said, “Hey, your mare is one busy mare. She had her nose in more areas of that paddock today!  Think maybe we should call her Charby.”

“Charby?” I questioned.

“Yeah, Charby. Cuz she’s busy as a bee!”


busy as a bee: to be very busy. This phrase has been around for centuries, as it first  appeared in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the late 1300s. It’s popularity hasn’t waned all that much.

Ey! Goddes mercy!” sayd our Hoste tho,
Now such a wyf I pray God keep me fro.
Lo, suche sleightes and subtilitees
In wommen be; for ay as busy as bees
Be thay us seely men for to desceyve,
And from a soth ever a lie thay weyve.
And by this Marchaundes tale it proveth wel.
                              –The Squire’s Tale

PS – My horse’s name really is Charby, and she was named pretty much as described.

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Cliche Fiction

“So, here’s the deal,” Fred said, “I’m gonna be a’betting, so I need  you to aid me.”

“Huh?” Greg responded, returning his attention to Fred.

He had been looking around the aged casino. What a grand old dame she must have been, he thought, looking past the faded chairs lining  the slot machines. The drapes were a fine fabric, the rugs had once been plush and the chandeliers were fine glass. Dusty, but glittering underneath.

“Just like that old saying,” Fred repeated. “I’m gonna be abetting over at that table, and I need you to aid me. Aid and abet, you know.”

“That’s not…”Greg started to say before shaking his head.  What had Pete got him into? “What do you need me to do?”

“I got my thing,” Fred said smugly.  “I just need your handsome face to keep that dealer girl over there from paying attention to me while I do it.”

Greg looked over at the tall dealer with the glossy dark hair. Men must be hitting on her all the time, he thought. Still,  Greg knew that girls liked him and he figured he could keep her busy, at least long enough for Fred to do his “thing.”

Well, damn, Greg thought with a dawning smile, that is aiding and abetting!!


aid and abet: to encourage and help, particularly in the case of nefarious or illegal activities.  Anyone that has watched any cop show in the last twenty years (or more) knows this phrase. Cops are always threatening people with being charged with “aiding and abetting” if people don’t give up the suspects, or even sometimes, actually charging people with it.  The phrase dates from the second half of the 18th century. The original meaning of abet was “to cause to bite,” but by then the word had lost that particular meaning and was more similar to the current meaning of encourage. The previous meaning had come from the practice of bear abetting, or bear baiting. Bear baiting was a popular sixteenth century entertainment where bears were tethered in “bear gardens” and trained dogs set loose to tear them apart. (I know, I know, don’t even get me started. I am sure the German “beer gardens” are far more entertaining. And I don’t like beer.)
The history of “abet” came from several countries, but does make sense of the “bear abetting” meaning:

1275-1325; Middle English abette (whence Old French abeter, unless perhaps the latter, of Germanic orig., be the source for the ME),
 OldEnglish *ābǣtan to hound on, equivalent to ā- a-3bǣtan to bait, akin to bite*


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I missed National Cliche Day last week as a) I had no power or internet, and, b) I was recovering from getting anaplasmosis from a tick bite (anaplasmosis is a lot more fun to say than live through!).

But it did make me think about my Cliche Sundays, and how I miss learning about the various phrases sprinkled through our language. I don’t think I want to go back to Cliche Sundays, but I did think of a new idea.

Since I have been reading so endlessly, I haven’t been writing as much. I could write, but I would rather figure out who-dun-it in that mystery I am reading. Definite laziness on my part, as giving in my obsession to read someone else’s fiction is certainly easier than coming up with my own.

My new series will involve clichés, fiction and arrive weekly. They will also be alphabetical, so that means there will be twenty-seven weeks. I haven’t picked a day of the week yet, nor exactly when I will start–probably as soon as I have the first story written. Guess I better put that book down and go find an A cliché!

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Cliche Sunday

Here we go–the end of the alphabet! Following tradition, I will be doing X, Y, &Z in one lump.  Sadly, the X’s seem nonexistent–which is not truly a surprise.

Now that I have reached the end of the alphabet,  Cliche Sunday is also taking a break. Frankly, my weekends are so very busy, it is hard to get Cliche Sunday out. As you may have noticed by the amount of skipped weeks recently! I do have some ideas for some other serial posts–just not on Sunday 🙂 So stay tuned.

And I am sure there will be a resurgence of Cliche Sunday. Maybe in October?

you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink: people, like horses, will only do what they want, when they want.  This cliché started life as a proverb,  very, very long time ago, which can attest to its popularity. The earliest written copy of it was 1175, in Old English Homilies:

Hwa is thet mei thet hors wettrien the him self nule drinken
[who can give water to the horse that will not drink of its own accord?]

you are what you eat: the idea eating good food is best for you if you want to be healthy. This phrase has been around a bit longer than one might think. I thought its roots was likely to be in the 1970s, when the modern health craze hit.  However, the cliché began in  France in 1826:

Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es. [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are].
   Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante

Later, Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach shortened it a bit:

Der Mensch ist, was er ißt. (man is what he eats)
Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism, 1863

The modern iteration of the phrase came to be in the 1920s when Victor Lindlahr came up with the Catabolic  Diet:

  Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat.

zero tolerance: a policy that allows no behavior to be overlooked. This has been a popular phrase in schools recently, having a “zero tolerance” for bullying. The cliché actually came out of the American 70s, when it was used to describe police action in areas with specialized high crime–drugs, mugging, prostitution, etc.  It was used more in the 80s during the War on Drugs, and also by the Food and Drug Admin to describe their policy on pesticides allowable in food.

zig-zag: the literal meaning of a series of straight lines joined at angles, used to describe a course of action. The popularity of the term is similar to other phonetically alternated phrases, like see-saw or tick-tock. The origin of this one is not known, although the earliest known  versions are either German or Dutch, suggesting that it came to English second.

“eenige in de voorstad van St. Germain zig zag bewegen  (some in the surburb of St Germain move in zig zag)
Dutch author Roelof Roukema, 1706

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Cliche Sunday

Some of you might have noticed I skipped last week. I  rather thought since it was a holiday, and I was wiped from eating too much ham with family, that it might be a good day to relax. But here we are again, with more clichés to do!

I am feeling rather literary (don’t ask why), so I thought we might delve into Shakespeare’s coined clichés again. I do have The Third Witch next on my reading list, perhaps that is why. For those who have never heard of this one, it is by  Rebecca Reisert, entering the world of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which a young woman’s search for vengeance plunges her into a legendary tale of deceit, murder, and retribution….*  Thus, inspired by Macbeth:

eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog: the ultimate cliché of enchantments, used whenever one must think of a generic curse or recipe for a spell.  It is definitely over used now and most people are too jaded to fall for the spooky lines, but in 1605–when Macbeth was written–the reaction would have been quite different. The audience would have been much more likely to believe in the witches themselves, and certainly the idea of a magic potion.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch:
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
–The Three Witches**

come what come may: to accept whatever events may befall one. This one was not created by Shakespeare, but gained popularity after being used in his play Macbeth. The phrase, originally known in France as far back as 1375, is  translated in modern french as “let it avail what it may, come what may”. The Spanish version,  que sera sera (which we still use today as well), also predates Shakespeare’s play.

“Thai wuld defend, avalze que valze.”
                     The  Bruce, John Barbour**

at one fell swoopto happen all at once, in one moment. The most interesting thing about this phrase is the “fell.” While there are many ideas about how this English cliché came into being, as if one dissects the words, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Until you understand the “fell.” It doesn’t mean a moorland, or the past tense of “fall,” or that one has chopped down a tree. The original meaning of it, as defined by “the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘fell’ as meaning ‘fierce, savage; cruel, ruthless; dreadful, terrible’, which is pretty unambiguous.“** That does make the cliché much more understandable, as most things that happen “at one fell swoop” are not usually fortuitous events.

lily livered: cowardly. A favorite in old Westerns, so who would have thought it came from Shakespeare?  However, in his time the liver was thought to control the emotions, which would include fear. A poorly functioning liver was thought to make one weak, especially emotionally.  Shakespeare immortalized this when “he described the servant as ‘a white-faced loon’ and gave Macbeth the line:

                                                               Go pricke thy face, and over-red thy feare, Thou Lilly-liver’d Boy.”**


*Barnes & Noble

**phrase origins

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Tis the season….

      For Dracula, that is

I  recently decided to read the original Bram Stoker, and Iwanted to share a few thoughts.  I don’t know why I never have read it before, and  I think Frankenstein is next. Two classics for the season. I know I was supposed to have my cliché story done today, but I just don’t think it is ready.

So I thought I would write about the clichés spawned by Dracula. I was surprised, actually, that Dracula didn’t seem cliché from all the references and parts that have been stolen from it for the last century or so. I was very impressed with Stoker’s writing, his descriptive style flowed smoothly. The plot moves along from diary to diary in a fantastic way. The classic seemed original. Who knew?

Vampires are very popular again, and endless worlds and theories have been created to support each authors view. The clichés spawned by Dracula and Dracula wannabes are endless too. I have collected just a few. I particularly like the first one, it has a very good point, I think we would notice that many deaths.

Vampires must kill regularly to feed. Anne Rice does this, but consider — three vampires in New Orleans killing at least once a night for sixty years. That is over sixty thousand corpses! In a city with a population of less than a quarter of a million! The Civil War was less devastating to the city!*

Sloppy eaters. I love cioppino, for example. Love it. But when I eat it, only a few drops might end up on my lips and shirt. Why would vampires be any different? Or if you use the analogy of addiction — do addicts spill cocaine? Not deliberately they don’t! In fact they’ll go to great lengths not to!*

Bug-eating servants. Renfield was innovative in his day. Devouring live insects is no longer edgy, but cliché.*

Vampire males who mope about being vampires. Okay we get it, you don’t like biting people for your next meal but please don’t push undead angst to the limit.* – I always liked Buffy more than Angel. As much as I enjoy David Boreanz, he was a bit broody for me. Spike, on the other hand, was quite entertaining.


All vampires are beautiful. I get that they have been around long enough to figure out what makes them look good. And I suppose vampires, like the rest of us,  tend to be drawn to beauty, so they are more likely to turn attractive people. But all of them? Unearthly beauty? I don’t think so!

Weary vampire falls in love with human, manages to find true love. While popular, the many twists and turns it takes for the spunky human to capture and keep the vampire’s interest, not to mention the contortions the author goes through to make a reasonable ending where they get to live happily ever after; seem, well, cliché.

Money. Along with beauty, I find it difficult to believe that every vampire has the business smarts of Sam Walton and manages to amass a fortune through the centuries. It is more likely that they would be living in poverty, and highly likely they would be criminals. Mugging would get them a two-fer: dinner and a wallet.

And then there are the “sparkly” vampires. You don’t want me to get started on those. Not to mention the movies and tv shows taking Dracula’s name and legacy in vain. I think that might be another post! Meanwhile,

for anyone looking for more vampire lore, check out Louise at Baby Gates Down and her series Vamps A-Z


*weird things


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