Monday Mar 24, 2003

Note by Rote You Don’t

I was at a dinner party. The conversation was lively.

My turn came around and, as I began to speak, I felt I had uttered a near cliché.

“That one’s free,” I said to the group. “The next one will cost me.”

“What do you mean?” said a fellow on my right.

I explained that one my self-imposed rules is this: I allow myself to mention one cliché a day—one free throw and no more. If another should somehow find freedom from my lips, I fine myself a quarter for each cliché that may follow.

“One cliché a day,” piped up a woman with dark hair. “Oh, God. If I couldn’t use clichés, I wouldn’t be able to speak all day long.”

She looked puzzled.

I explained a bit further: I do this as part of my mental training. While not every thing I say may be totally original, I don’t want to compound things by using clichés to convey my meaning.

The point is about being original, about knowing that your perceptions were born from first-hand experience, and not simply adopted as your own by believing what others have told you.

Over these many years, I’ve fine-tuned my ear to be on alert for clichés that my be near my vocal cords. My toughest day so far took place about five years ago and involved three additional clichés that cost me seventy-five cents plus five minutes of penance. The purpose here is not to avoid using the occasional cliché; the point is to know that you are doing so on purpose.

I have nothing against clichés; when they were first spoken, they conveyed great meaning. A cliché reminds me of an actor who knows his lines perfectly but not how to act.

When you weed out the clichés, you will find your original garden. Spend a day weeding diligently and see whether you having anything to say for your self.»

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