Time-Honored Truisms

Dec 1 2012 @ 2:11pm

Hephzibah Anderson explores the origins of clichés:

I had no idea that "better late than never," a phrase I use almost daily, was first inscribed by an ancient Greek, the historian and rhetorician Dionysius of Halicarnassus. No surprise that one of the first mentions of "thinking outside the box occurred in an aviation trade magazine in the 1970s, but "cut to the chase” originated as just that: a direction in the screenplay for the 1930 film Show Girl in Hollywood.

The argument for preserving them:

Not all clichés, you might say, are created equal. "At the end of the day," which has justly been voted the most hated cliché, is little more than a verbal tic. "All things being equal" is another. Strip them from a sentence and its sense remains unchanged. Attempt the same with an apposite cliché and you might find you’re missing more than succinct wisdom. You’ve lost a bit of history because, far from being vacuous, the most enduring clichés tether you to generations of human experience. "Squaring the circle," for instance, is a challenge first alluded to in English in a sermon by John Donne, but it dates back still further, to an ancient Greek geometer named Hippocrates of Chios.