Like Betsy, and Tracy, I was a little surprised to find a request for
cliches yielding student howlers . . . but cliches do generate that
kind of thing disproportionately: they're where metaphors go to die,
Scott Adams (Dilbert) has a newsletter which regularly reports the
kind of amazing (or amusing) misuse of cliches and formulas people are
talking about here -- the results of not considering what the dead
metaphor actually meant before it gave up the ghost. In last May's
issue, for instance
he claimed his readers had actually heard all of these (among others):
"…the cream of the corn".
"…too many cooks in the broth."
"Looks like I've spent the day chasing a wild herring! "
"We are the glue that keeps things moving. "
"Fits like a charm! Wait..fits like a shoe? "
"That guy is running around like a chicken with his legs cut off."
"It just like stealing teeth from a baby."
"It’s like the rooster guarding the hen house."
"That guy doesn't have a spine to stand on."
"You're barking up a dead tree."
"That's my sixth cents, for what it's worth."
"That's not his cup of cake."
He doesn't, though, usually include the simpler ones like "tow the
line" (for "toe the line") and "baited breath" (for "bated breath" --
were you baiting us with that one, Roger, or did you use the wrong
My nomination for the current most-overused cliche is the one that I
think ten percent of CBC news items currently ends with: something
won't happen "any time soon." Listen for it.
Department of English
St. Thomas University
To leave the list, send a SIGNOFF CASLL command to
[log in to unmask] or, if you experience difficulties,
write to Russ Hunt at [log in to unmask]
For the list archives and information about the organization,
its newsletter, and the annual conference, go to