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Extract from a cartoon by Priestman Atkinson, from the Punch Almanack for 1885, mocking clichéd expressions in the popular literature at the time

A cliché (UK: /ˈklʃ/ or US: /klˈʃ/; French: [kliʃe]) is a saying, idea, or element of an artistic work that has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being weird, irritating, or bland, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.[1] In phraseology, the term has taken on a more technical meaning, referring to an expression imposed by conventionalized linguistic usage.[2]

The term, which is typically pejorative, is often used in modern culture for an action or idea that is expected or predictable, based on a prior event. Clichés may or may not be true.[3] Some are stereotypes, but some are simply truisms and facts.[4] Clichés often are employed for comedic effect, typically in fiction.

Most phrases now considered clichéd originally were regarded as striking but have lost their force through overuse.[5] The French poet Gérard de Nerval once said, "The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile."[6]

A cliché is often a vivid depiction of an abstraction that relies upon analogy or exaggeration for effect, often drawn from everyday experience.[7][8] Used sparingly, it may succeed, but the use of a cliché in writing, speech, or argument is generally considered a mark of inexperience or a lack of originality.


The word cliché is borrowed from French, where it is a past passive participle of clicher, 'to click', used as a noun; cliché is attested from 1825 and originated in the printing trades.[9] The term cliché was adopted as printers' jargon to refer to a stereotype, electrotype, cast plate or block print that could reproduce type or images repeatedly.[10][9] It has been suggested that the word originated from the clicking sound in "dabbed" printing (a particular form of stereotyping in which the block was impressed into a bath of molten type-metal to form a matrix). Through this onomatopoeia, cliché came to mean a ready-made, oft-repeated phrase.[11]


Using a feature such as an overhanging branch to frame a nature scene[12] may be described as a visual cliché.

Various dictionaries recognize a derived adjective clichéd, with the same meaning.[13][14][15][16] Cliché is sometimes used as an adjective,[14][15] although some dictionaries do not recognize it as such,[13][16] listing the word only as a noun and clichéd as the adjective.

Thought-terminating cliché[edit]

Thought-terminating clichés, also known as thought-stoppers,[17] or semantic stopsigns,[18] are words or phrases that discourage critical thought and meaningful discussion about a given topic.[19] They are typically short, generic truisms that offer seemingly simple answers to complex questions or that distract attention away from other lines of thought.[19] They are often sayings that have been embedded in a culture's folk wisdom and are tempting to say because they sound true or good or like the right thing to say.[17] Some examples are: "Stop thinking so much",[20] "here we go again",[21] and "so what, what effect do my [individual] actions have?"[17]

The term was popularized by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton in his 1961 book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China.[19] Lifton wrote, "The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis".[22] Sometimes they are used in a deliberate attempt to shut down debate, manipulate others to think a certain way, or dismiss dissent. However, some people repeat them, even to themselves, out of habit or conditioning, or as a defense mechanism to reaffirm a confirmation bias.[17][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly, The Elements of Technical Writing, pg. 85. New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1993. ISBN 0020130856
  2. ^ "Cliché - Examples and Definition of Cliché as a writing device". Literary Devices. 2021-01-11. Retrieved 2021-09-30.
  3. ^ Short Story Library Thick skin and writing, cliché, but true Archived 2010-02-26 at the Wayback Machine - Published By Casey Quinn • May 10th, 2009 • Category: Casey's Corner
  4. ^ The Free Dictionary - Cliche
  5. ^ Mason, David; Nims, John Frederick (1999). Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry. McGraw-Hill. pp. 126–127. ISBN 0-07-303180-1.
  6. ^ Quotations of Gérard de Nerval
  7. ^ Loewen, Nancy (2011). Talking Turkey and Other Clichés We Say. Capstone. p. 11. ISBN 978-1404862722.
  8. ^ "Definition of Cliché". Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  9. ^ a b "cliche". www.etymonline.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  10. ^ Westwood, Alison. The Little Book of Clichés. Canary Press eBooks. ISBN 1907795138.
  11. ^ Knight, Edward Henry (1881). Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary: A Description of Tools, Instruments, Machines, Processes, and Engineering; History of Inventions; General Technological Vocabulary; and Digest of Mechanical Appliances in Science and the Arts. Houghton, Mifflin.
  12. ^ Freeman, Michael (2004). Nature and Landscape Photography. Lark Books. p. 36. ISBN 1-57990-545-5. Retrieved 2009-07-02.
  13. ^ a b "cliche". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. n.d. Archived from the original on 2005-01-09. Retrieved 2010-10-21.
  14. ^ a b "cliché". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-21.
  15. ^ a b "cliché". Dictionary.com Unabridged. n.d. Retrieved 2010-02-21.
  16. ^ a b Brown, Lesley, ed. (1993). "cliché". New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-861271-0.
  17. ^ a b c d Chiras, Daniel D. (1992), "Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in the Biology & Environmental Science Classrooms", The American Biology Teacher, 54 (8): 464–468, doi:10.2307/4449551, JSTOR 4449551
  18. ^ Yudkowsky, Eliezer (24 Aug 2007). "Semantic Stopsigns". Less Wrong. Retrieved 26 Aug 2018.
  19. ^ a b c Kathleen Taylor (27 July 2006). Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control. OUP Oxford. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-19-920478-6.
  20. ^ Morisy, Ann (2009), Bothered and Bewildered: Enacting Hope in Troubled Times, A&C Black, p. 29, ISBN 9781847064806, retrieved October 25, 2016
  21. ^ Clampitt, Phillip G.; Williams, M. Lee (Winter 2007), "Decision Downloading", MIT Sloan Management Review, vol. 48, no. 2, retrieved October 25, 2016
  22. ^ Lifton, Robert J. (1989). Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China. UNC Press. p. 429. ISBN 978-0-8078-4253-9.
  23. ^ Peterson, Britt (March 19, 2015), "Scientology's enturbulating lingo", Boston Globe, retrieved October 25, 2016

Further reading[edit]