Some people, especially in Vermont where the winters are long, collect things. I know people who collect rare wines, deer antlers, Blue Willow china, baseball cards, snake skins, campaign buttons, barbed wire, beer cans, coins, stamps, and telephone insulators.
I collect clichés.
Clichés are trite, shopworn, overused phrases, such as “He is as dumb as a ‘box of rocks.’” Readers of my writing are no strangers to clichés. I am to the cliché what Tiger Woods is to the golf club. In my personal collection, however, I eschew the ordinary in favor of those most rare and valuable phractured phrases (hush of silence, ominous organ music in minor chords wells in background), the Clixed-up Miché.
These are the Hope Diamonds, the albino bisons, black pearls, and three pound truffles of the linguistic world. These freaks of human nature occur when the brain reaches into the language section for a familiar phrase, and somehow comes out with a mongrel piece of verbiage that makes as much sense as weeding the garden in January.
Warning: Clixed-up Michés can cause a reader to scratch his or her head for prolonged periods, muttering “What’s he talking about?” They make you go “Huh?” For full effect, read them aloud, preferably after sniffing glue. Here, without tiptoeing through the eggshells, is my personal stash.
It was bright mid-October day, twenty-two years ago. I asked a co-worker if he was willing to work Sundays. He replied “No, not for all the money in China.” Another responded “It’s not my can of worms.”
Uh … waitaminute. Apparently his brain reached into his cliché folder for all the money in the world or all the tea in China, and came up with a hybrid that reminds us that China is a Third World country where people work for fourteen cents a day. A while later this same person told me to put that in my hat and smoke it. Off the tip of my head I recognized these as vintage Michés, the kind that draw ooo-o-s and aahh-h-hs on Cliché Roadshow.
A friend of mine, a guy who talks from the hip, once described his sister as the kind of girl who wears her heart on her shoulder. I pictured her with a bloody, pulsating organ perched parrot-like next to her smiling face. Did this mean that his sister was passionate or some kind of sicko? Why couldn’t she just wear her heart on her sleeve like everyone else? A potential blind date was once described to me as “loyal, true blue (cliché), the kind of girl who would give you the hair right off her back.” What short-circuit, interpretable only by Freud, caused this?
Body parts are prominent in Clixed-up Michés. Quick … is it nose to the wheel, shoulder to the grindstone or nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel? Let’s not open that bag of worms. I was at a business meeting once where someone said “He cut off his face in spite of his nose.” To make matters worse, the perpetrator, an otherwise respectable man, repeated his mistake over and over to an ever-growing chorus of snickers. I’d like to have been a peanut on the wall when he realized his mistake.
There are variations on the common theme, such as Misused Quantitative Reference clichés. Example: Minnesota has many lakes. Carter has many Little Liver Pills. It is mildly clever to say something like “Vermont has more aging hippies than Carter has little liver pills.” By contrast, it is annoying beyond belief to say “She’s more beautiful than there are lakes in Minnesota.” Or, “My leg hurts more than Carter has little liver pills.” People who say things like this really need to get their house of cards in order. Just take a bite out of the bullet and move on. It’s spilled milk under the dam.
There is also the Right Idea, Wrong Words cliché. On a Red Sox broadcast I once heard the announcer say never wake a sleeping dog up instead of the proper let sleeping dogs lie. Yogi Berra, from whose lips came 90% of this game is half-mental and when you come to a fork in the road, take it would agree that this is like déjà vu, all over again.
What a bunch of crock! I don’t know whether to shit or cut bait or fish or get off the pot.
Now we come to the lightning round, the grand finale of the Fourth of July fireworks. Let’s put ourselves in front of the cart, because the handwriting is on the wind. Bust open the collection; we’re going out in a blaze of cliché glory. Clear steam ahead! Let’s shake the hackles of our language pretensions and search the four corners of the globe to find more examples of Clixed-up Michés. Let’s not pull any bones, especially those of us who are green behind the ears. Above all, let’s be sure we don’t give away the ship.
In closing I ask how can you keep them down on the farm, now that they’ve seen Barree? (Whoops, that’s a pun, not a cliché.) Hopefully, there’s a tunnel at the end of this rainbow. This brings us to the verge of the brink. It goes to show that, despite our education, despite our pretensions of sophistication, despite our reaching for le mot juste (cliché Francais), you can’t change a tiger’s spots.
( For once, I did not make any of this up. A tip of the head to C. Jane Taylor, Emmett Taylor, and Marie Cook who took the bull by the hands and contributed Clixed-up Michés that were truly the frosting on the iceberg. Without them, this column would have been as dead as a pancake.)
Here are a few more words to play with: