Improve Your Stories Immediately

Cut clichés the Orwell way

Image for post
George Orwell at the BBC. (Photo by BBC, Public Domain)

In 1946, George Orwell wrote one of his most compelling works. No, not Animal Farm. Not 1984.

Rather, it was Politics and the English Language. I’ve linked the title in case you want to read the whole piece (and really you should if you’re interested in writing), but in the interest of time I’ll cut to the chase.

Orwell was a master wordsmith. He understood well how to use the English language. Orwell tightened his own message to a few salient points:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

My historical methods professor, Dr. Rick Rohrs at Oklahoma State, introduced me to Orwell’s essay in a graduate course in 1988. He called every dead metaphor, cliché, and overworked phrase an “Orwell.” I’ve continued that tradition in my research and writing courses.

For three decades now, I’ve written with Orwell in mind. I’ve also tailored my own methods courses around Orwell’s tenets.

My current course has just gotten to the “Dead Metaphor/Stinky Cliché” section, and we spent some time (well, 45 minutes) listing all the Orwells we could think of. Here’s our list:

1. Ahead of her/his time
2. Humble abode
3. Near and dear to their heart
4. The best and the brightest
5. Sooner or later
6. In his/her lifetime
7. A blank slate
8. A matter of time
9. Sticks out like a sore thumb
10. Like you’re a man out of time
11. Back in the day
12. The rest is history
13. Once upon a time
14. It was a dark and stormy night
15. At the end of the day
16. It is what it is
17. There is no “there” there
18. It depends on what “is” is
19. Hit the nail on the head
20. That’s the last nail in the coffin
21. Dead to rights
22. Dressed to kill
23. Think outside the box
24. Drive it home
25. If looks could kill
26. Avoiding something like the plague
27. Dead man walking
28. Full-blown AIDs
29. The path of least resistance
30. That’s how the cookie crumbles
31. Two heads are better than one
32. Time flies
33. Times flies when you’re having fun
34. It’s all fun and games till someone gets hurts
35. Double-edged sword
36. Give him enough rope to hang himself
37. Suffice it to say
38. Don’t judge a book by its cover
39. It must not have been very important or they wouldn’t have forgotten it
40. A modest proposal
41. A meager earning
42. The ties that bind
43. Blood is thicker than water
44. Two wrongs don’t make a right
45. The spitting image
46. The end justifies the means
47. Whether or not
48. Rather or not
49. Back on track
50. The fact of the matter
51. At this point in time
52. Few and far between
53. A level playing field
54. In this day and age
55. For all intents and purposes
56. When all is said and done
57. In the final analysis
58. Come full circle
59. Par for the course
60. On par
61. In the current climate
62. A mass exodus
63. A baptism of fire
64. In any way, shape, or form
65. Fit for purpose
66. Fit for a king
67. Trial by fire
68. Eye for an eye
69. Kill two birds with one stone
70. Have your cake and eat it too
71. Nowadays
72. A rolling stone gathers no moss
73. A broken clock is right twice a day
74. A chip off the old block
75. A far cry
76. The early bird gets the worm
77. A loose cannon
78. Cat’s got your tongue
79. A word to the wise
80. All’s fair in love and war
81. Music calms the savage beast
82. Music to my ears
83. Purrs like a kitten
84. Dumb as a rock
85. Dumb as a box of rocks
86. Dumb as a stump
87. Drunk as a skunk
88. At my wit’s end
89. Beat a dead horse
90. Not the sharpest tool in the shed
91. He’s a half bubble off plumb
92. Be all, end all
93. He’s got a screw loose
94. Scared half to death
95. Boils down to
96. Clear as a bell
97. Crystal clear
98. Come hell or high water.
99. To hell and back
100. To the ends of the earth
101. Cry me a river
102. Day in, day out
103. Eat your heart out
104. Heart on your sleeve
105. Fair-weather friend
106. For the record
107. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
108. I beg to differ
109. In over his/her head
110. Out of your league
111. Out of your depth
112. A league of your own
113. Jack of all trades
114. A labor of love
115. Head over heels
116. Love is blind
117. Loved and lost
118. The cup is half full
119. Cheaters never win, and winners never cheat
120. Off the top of my head
121. Nature sides with the hidden flaw
122. One foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel
123. Sick as a dog
124. When hell freezes over
125. If that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black
126. Better late than never
127. Better to be safe than sorry
128. From time to time
129. The road to hell is paved with good intentions
130. Highway to hell
131. Sleeps like a baby
132. Like stealing candy from a baby
133. Slept like a log
134. Like a kid in a candy store
135. Like a bull in a china shop
136. Sweating bullets
137. Raining cats and dogs
138. Twist of fate
139. A taste of your own medicine
140. Ugly as sin
141. Flew too close to the sun
142. Blind as a bat
143. Ugly as a mud fence
144. Waiting for the other shoe to drop
145. Vain attempt/effort
146. Forever and a day
147. But it was all for naught
148. Other fish in the sea
149. Like two peas in a pod
150. Like fish in a barrel
151. Like peas and carrots
152. Thick as thieves
153. There’s no honor among thieves
154. Take the bull by the horns
155. Hypothetically speaking
156. The apple of my eye
157. A sight for sore eyes
158. A mother’s love
159. A face only a mother could love
160. Easy on the eyes
161. Tall drink of water
162. Too hot to handle
163. To be or not to be
164. He’s a half-empty sort of guy
165. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work
166. On the tip of my tongue
167. Dead in the water
168. Dead on arrival
169. Spot on
170. Dead ringer
171. Robbed blind
172. Tongue-in-cheek
173. That takes the cake
174. Every cloud has a silver lining
175. Every dog has its day
176. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks

Certainly, these are not all of the Orwells in the world. You can add hundreds more, I’m sure, but it’s a start.

By the way, at the start of this article I wrote “cut to the chase” and “salient points.” I need to go back and change those!

We’ve got to do better than this, folks.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store