It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches

ISBN : 9780190624156

Orin Hargraves
248 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Nov 2016
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Careful writers and speakers agree that cliches are generally to be avoided. However, nearly all of us continue to use them. Why do they persist in our language? In It's Been Said Before, lexicographer Orin Hargraves examines the peculiar idea and power of the cliche. He helps readers understand why certain phrases became cliches and why they should be avoided - or why they still have life left in them. Indeed, cliches can be useful - even powerful. And few people even agree on which expressions are cliches and which are not. Many regard any frequent idiom as a cliche, and a phrase regarded as a cliche in one context may be seen simply as an effective expression in another. Examples drawn from data about actual usage support Hargraves' identification of true cliches. They also illuminate his commentary on usage problems and helpful suggestions for eliminating cliches where they serve no useful purpose. Concise and lively, It's Been Said Before serves as a guide to the most overused phrases in the English language - and to phrases that are used exactly as often as they should be.


1. Adjectival Cliches: Cliches that modify nouns or serve as predicates after linking verbs
2. Adverbial Cliches: Cliches that function as adverbials, describing how, when, with what, in what manner, etc.
3. People, Places, and Things: Cliches that function as noun phrases
4. Framing Devices: Cliches used to introduce, contextualize, or conclude questions or statements
5. Modifier Abuse: Cliches arising from extremely frequent and/or inapt collocation of particular adjectives with nouns, or of submodifying adverbs with adjectives
6. Predicate Cliches: Cliches beginning with a finite verb that serve as complete predicates
7. Quantification: Cliches that characterize quantities
8. Situational Cliches: Cliches consisting of complete sentences that characterize a situation or action
9. Cliches About Cliches: ways that people talk about or mention cliches that are themselves cliches
10. Appendix I: joined by and cliches: numerous phrases consisting of words joined by 'and'

About the author: 

Orin Hargraves is a lexicographer and author of language reference books. He grew up in the mountains of southwestern Colorado and graduated from the University of Chicago. A past president of the Dictionary Society of North America, Hargraves has contributed to dozens of dictionaries and other language reference books. He currently lives in Niwot, Colorado, and researches the computational use of language at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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