When I write, I try to stay away from clichés. But what you resist persists, so instead of avoiding them, I'm learning everything I can about them. Did you know that William Shakespeare invented the cliché? Shakespeare died in 1616, and even now, 400 years later, his words live on — not just as dialog in his famous plays, but as the clichés we use in our daily conversations. Of course when he first wrote these phrases, they weren't clichés at all; they were fresh, relevant ways to express complicated ideas.
Shakespeare was a master wordsmith, and a brilliant student of human nature. Most of his clichés are insights; a familiar way to describe ourselves, and our behavior:
· We have stubborn moments when we “Refuse to budge an inch."
· When we can’t understand something we say, “That’s Greek to me.”
· We’ve envied others, and suffered with “Green-eyed jealousy.”
· We’ve had experiences of being “Tongue-tied,” “Hoodwinked,” and “In a pickle.”
· And we know what it means to be “A tower of strength.”
Shakespeare’s phrases deliver clear, synthesized descriptions of what’s happening. We’ve: “Knitted our brows,” “Insisted on fair play,” “Slept not one wink,” “Stood on ceremony,” and “Laughed ourselves into stitches.” We know when our “Teeth set on edge,” and when the “Game is up.”
Shakespeare contributed more phrases to the English language than any other individual. It's through overuse that these truisms became universally known — in fact, they’re so popular, we call them clichés — implying that they're overused and lack originality. But when they fit the circumstances, there's nothing like a cliché. We all recognize, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." And just the other day, I overheard someone express agitation. I smiled as the phrase, “Much ado about nothing,” arose uninvited in my thoughts.
Our speech is peppered with the timeless lessons of Shakespeare’s meaningful clichés. And now it’s time for me to conclude as I stay mindful that, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Sources: The Writings of William Shakespeare, Rabbi Hurvitz.