It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.

KARL POPPER (1902-94)




The word cliché comes from the French word cliquer to click, applied by die-sinkers to the striking of melted lead in order to obtain a proof or cast.  It was originally used to describe a block used by engravers.  The oldest citation in the modern sense is from 1892.

The most hackneyed line in movie scripts is 'Let's get outta here'. A recent survey of 150 American features of the period 1938-74 showed that it was used at least once in 84 percent of Hollywood productions and more than once in 17 percent. 

A 2006 report, by the news and information company Factiva, found that 'at the end of the day' was the most over-used cliché in newspapers and websites - clocking up an eye-watering 3,347 mentions between January and June.  Financial terms 'in the red' and 'in the black' were second and third in the survey, followed by 'level playing field', 'time and again' and 'wealth of experience'. 


Shakespeare's Clichés

There is an (apocryphal) story about someone who announced that Shakespeare was a lousy author because his work was full of clichés. The obvious reply is that it was actually Shakespeare that invented all these phrases – though just because he has the first known attribution it doesn't mean that he was the first to say them, only that he's the first we know about.  Anyway, here are some clichés that we attribute to Shakespeare:

'Be-all and end-all, cold comfort, crack of doom, dead as a doornail, for ever and a day, foregone conclusion, the game's up, give the devil his due, Greek to me, heart of gold, high time, in my heart of hearts, laid on with a trowel, laughing stock, make a virtue of necessity, more in sorrow than in anger, more sinned against than sinning, murder most foul, once more into the breach, one fell swoop, play fast and loose, sea change, make short shrift, thereby hangs a tale, there's the rub, too much of a good thing, tower of strength, what the dickens, wild-goose chase...'

A word like 'thingy' or 'whatchamacallit' is called a cadigan, or a placeholder name.


I admit it, I am not one of the great linguists.

Automatic Word Generation

In the eighteenth century the great Jaquet-Droz built an automaton which could scrawl any sentence on a piece of paper and had a chilling repertory of human-like movements. It was presented in every court in Europe and could write any custom text up to 40 letters long: the text was coded on a wheel.
According to some contemporary sources, Jacquet-Droz used to program his automaton to write the sentence 'Cogito ergo sum'.
Philip M Parker is the most prolific author of all time. He has only been producing books for 5 years, and already has more than 85,000 books to his name. The professor of management science has invented an algorithm that will automatically write books by taking information from an enormous database linked to the internet, his titles include:  The 2007 Import and Export Market for Seaweeds and Other Algae in France; The 2007-2012 Outlook for Chinese Prawn Crackers in Japan; and The 2007-2012 Outlook for Edible Tallow and Stearin Made in Slaughtering Plants in Greater China.
Nowadays you can find chatbots engaging in sales and assistance on many corporate websites, including Paypal, Ikea, Ford, Lloyds TSB, Alaska Airlines, British Telecom, Royal Bank of Scotland, Renault, Citroen, and One Railway. Even some cities have them, like the City of San Carlos. 

Like Like

A discourse particle is a linguistic term for, like, a filler which is, like, commonly added to a person, or, like, group of people's, conversations.  They're not fillers, as such, because they convey something important about the context of the sentence.
'When someone uses like, they are saying, "I'm about to say something, but I'm not sure I have the words for it quite right",' says linguist Muffy Siegel, who found that ancient Hittite and Sanskrit had words similar in function. 'Like has different properties than almost, or approximately or nearly. "Like six" doesn't mean the same as "six" or even "about six".'


The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.

Forensic Linguistics

By analysing syntax, word choice, spelling and other linguistic patterns, a forensic linguist can identify a possible suspect or help to convict a criminal during a trial. In the USA, the unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, a reclusive former mathematician was identified this way. He had engaged in a nationwide bombing campaign against people involved with modern technology, killing three and injuring 23 people. Both Kaczynski and the Unabomber showed a preference for dozens of unusual words and expressions, such as ‘chimerical’, ‘anomic’ and ‘cool-headed logicians’. A judge ruled that the linguistic evidence was strong enough to prompt him to issue a search warrant for Kaczynski’s cabin in Montana; what was found there put him in prison for life.

Um... Err

A filler is a linguistic term for a word that is used when one has temporarily lost one's train of thought but wants to continue the sentence.  These include, um, ah or err. Equivalents are found in very language
In sign language: um can be signed with open-8 held at chin, palm in, eyebrows down (similar to FAVORITE); or bilateral symmetric bent-V, palm out, repeated axial rotation of wrist (similar to QUOTE). 

Dorothy Parker’s dog was called Cliché.

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking.

Anomia, dysnomia and lethologica are all words which describe the problem of not quite being able to find the right word.

The ancient Romans spoke common Greek, rtaher than Latin in their everyday transactions. 

A logomaniac is someone who is obsessively interested in words.

A pauciloquent person uses few words.