The general rule George Orwell tells us in his essay “Politics and the English Language” is “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” Bizarrely enough, the first website hit for this essay comes from a Russian site. . . how ironic! (Not coincidental. . . I really mean ironic here!)
All of the dicta Orwell gives us follow:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Love that last one, huh? The back story there is that, to the ancient Greeks, outlanders (one of their ideas) seemed. . . well. . . outlandish, partly because of their languages’ sounds. They sounded like “bar bar bar,” sort of like talking adults sound in George Shultz’s The Peanuts! This is called a metarule, a rule about rules.
Cliches are grooves our thoughts enter. They are comforting because they are so automatic. Call them shortcuts to thought. They are stifling because they are so typical.