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Cliché in English

One of the attributes of language is open-endedness. Human beings can generate unlimited utterances through the limited rules that guide sentence formation in any language.

Every creative language user can form sentences that are unheard-of and, by extension, enthrall listeners. Despite this natural gift of creativity, users of English, especially non-native speakers, have some sets of overused expressions.

Such expressions are called clichés. While these expressions sound impressive to some individuals, they appear tedious to many others by virtue of overuse. It must be mentioned that such expressions are not wrong.

They could, nonetheless, expose a person’s lack of originality and ingenuity. Any user of English who desires elegance must, therefore, largely avoid these overused expressions. This piece will address a number of them, as well as their alternatives.

One of such clichés is ‘be that as it may’. This expression is used to mean you accept a piece of information, but it does not change your opinion of the subject you are discussing. This expression can be replaced with less common expressions given in the sentences below:

She has made a good point. Be that as it may, she must remain here (cliché).

She has made a good point. However true that may be, she must remain here (alternative).

She has made a good point. Whatever the case may be, she must remain here (alternative).

Another common one is ‘does/did not augur well’. This has been a long preferred expression by many Nigerians, particularly when they resolve to register their displeasure at a decision or a situation.

The extent of kidnapping and banditry in Nigeria does not augur well for the future of the country (cliché).

The extent of kidnapping and banditry in Nigeria is an ominous sign for the future of the country (alternative).

The extent of kidnapping and banditry in Nigeria is not a good sign for the future of this country (alternative).

Additionally, you must have heard people say that a person is ‘a force to be reckoned with’. This, of course, is not inappropriate. Yet, it can be said in a simpler, clearer and more straightforward manner, as disclosed below:

Bola Tinubu is a force to be reckoned with in Nigerian politics (cliché).

Bola Tinubu is a major force in Nigerian politics (alternative).

Again, when something is highly unsatisfactory, many a user of English prefers to use the cliché, ‘leave much to be desired’. This can be simply replaced with the phrase ‘not very satisfactory’. So, rather than saying a person’s reaction to an issue left much to be desired, we could simply say that such a person’s reaction was not very satisfactory. Describing a situation or phenomenon as ‘the order of the day’ is another cliché that can be avoided and replaced with the three alternative words/expressions below:

Kidnapping has become the order of the day in Nigeria (cliché).

Kidnapping has become endemic in Nigeria (alternative).

Kidnapping has become the rule in Nigeria (alternative).

Another common statement is to say that something ‘cannot be overemphasised’. This statement is used to express the importance of a thing, but it has been bleached with its incessant usage by many speakers of English. This phrase can be replaced by simple words, as seen in the following example sentences:

The harm caused by kidnappers in Nigeria cannot be overemphasised (cliché).

The harm caused by kidnappers in Nigeria is substantial (alternative).

The harm caused by kidnappers in Nigeria is colossal (alternative).

The harm caused by kidnappers in Nigeria is indescribable (alternative).

Other sentence structures that embody clichés are:

My hobbies include singing, dancing and reading, to name but a few (cliché).

My hobbies include singing, dancing, reading and many more (alternative).

My hobbies include singing, dancing, reading and whatnot (alternative).

At that point in time, I was domiciled in Brussels, Belgium (cliché).

At that time, I was domiciled in Brussels, Belgium (alternative).

I expected my subordinates to think outside the box (cliché).

I expected my subordinates to stretch their imaginations (alternative).

I expected my subordinates to expand their thinking (alternative).

I expected my subordinates to examine the issue from a different perspective (alternative).

The parliamentarians are on the same page (cliché).

The parliamentarians are working in harmony (alternative).

The parliamentarians have a shared understanding (alternative).

My lecturer admonished me to keep my eye on the ball (cliché).

My lecturer admonished me to remain focussed (alternative).

At the end of the day, Ruth was adjudged the winner of the contest (cliché).

Ultimately, Ruth was adjudged the winner of the contest (alternative).

Finally, Ruth was adjudged the winner of the content (alternative).

Mark you, the expressions, which are currently designated as clichés, were elegant ways of capturing situations. Over time, however, they have been overused and have lost their elegance. Users of English should, thus, be more ingenious, in order to sound and write uniquely.

© 2021 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose

Department of English,

Lagos State University

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