The best reason to avoid clichés in writing is that they are boring.
The next best reason is some are just plain wrong and it’s our job as writers to stop the spread of ignorance:
Sweat like a pig.
Pigs don’t sweat, at least, not enough to matter. That’s why they wallow in mud — they need a heatsink.
However, apparently this expression really refers to pig iron anyway, not pigs. So maybe this doesn’t exactly prove my point. Oh well. Moving on…
Blind as a bat.
Bats aren’t blind. They see very well when there is light, but of course, their thing is seeing in the dark. For that, they developed sonar. But their eyes didn’t suddenly stop working when they started squeaking at mosquitoes.
There are truly blind animals. Why not use “blind as a Texas cave salamander”? Or even “myopic as a mole”. Hey! that one is pretty good. You can use it. Until it becomes cliché.
Drink like a fish.
This is either completely wrong or mostly wrong, depending on whether you are talking about fresh or salt water fish:
– Freshwater fish don’t drink at all. They absorb all the moisture they need from the water passing through their gills. So you can’t “drink like a fish” unless you have gills or the ability to absorb water through your skin. Tadpoles and frogs can do that. So why not “drink like a frog”?
– Saltwater fish do swallow a little water to replace what they lose from their gills due to osmosis. Occasional little sips. I don’t think that is in the spirit of the expression.
Slippery as a snake.
Snakes are not slippery, they are smooth. If something is slippery, you can’t get a proper grip on it, like a wet bar of soap, or a politician’s promise. Snakes are dry (except, obviously, for water snakes) and you can hold a snake easily. If you want to test this yourself, remember if it wasn’t for snakes we would be buried in vermin, so don’t squeeze hard enough to hurt the little fella.
Slippery as an eel works, but you lose that attractive alliteration.
Piss like a racehorse.
Does that mean naked, on all fours, in the middle of a racetrack? While possible, it is a physically challenging pose for women and probably not a good idea for men either.
I smell a rat.
Rats don’t have a scent that humans can detect. You may smell a rat’s nest, but again, probably not — our noses are terrible.
On the other hand, humans have a scent that just about every animal can detect. We are a truly rank species. Even a few days without bathing will do it. So you should say “I smell a human”.
Working like a dog.
Okay seriously — when was the last time you saw a dog working? My dog naps, begs for treats, and chases things. So does every dog I know. Even so called working dogs, like retrievers and sheepdogs, don’t look they are working. They look like they are having a blast.
If only our jobs made us so happy.
If my job was sniffing butts and wallowing in bellyscratches, I’d work like a dog too.
* Isn’t “as retired as a raphus cucullatus” more interesting than “as dead as a dodo”?
The English word “avocado” comes from the Spanish word aguacate, which comes from the Aztec word ahuacatl, which means “testicle”. This is most likely because the avocado, growing in dangling pairs, resembled the body part. Fresh guacamole, anyone?
Grand Tetons is French for “big tits”. Presumably the French voyageurs who first ran across this mountain range in western Wyoming were missing their wives. As they paddled up to these perky peaks, they named them after what was foremost on their minds.
Some decades later, the US Park Service named a new national park after cleavage. The Big Boobs Back Forty! I hear it’s a great place to bring your motorboat…
Do you live in a cul-de-sac? Well, the word “cul” is French for behind, bottom, rear end. It’s more street-wise than, say, derriere. In short, “cul-de-sac” literally means “ass of bag”.
Think about that the next time you see a realtor’s ad which says “this house is in a desirable location”.
Maidenhead is a town outside of London, England. It’s also the classic and relatively polite term for the unbroken hymen of a female, which was taken as a sign of virginity (though an unreliable one, as it turns out).
The tie between town and tissue is more complex, though. The term “maidenhead” dates to 1200 or so, when “hede” meant “condition or state of being”. This is starting to make more sense, right?
The town’s name was originally “Maiden-hythe”, where hythe was Saxon for “wharf”. No one knows exactly how the “Maiden” part got in, but eventually the whole thing got contracted to Maidenhead and the name stuck.
I find it funny how our straight-laced ancestors were scandalized over the sight of a lady’s ankle, but were open enough about virginity to name a town after it. Hell, early American colonists named a state after it (Virginia) in honor of their virgin queen (Elizabeth I). Apparently the first Queen Liz was very proud of her maidenhead, even though its maintenance necessarily meant the end of the Tudor dynasty.
Think you know about Columbus? You probably don’t — most of what we learned about that tale is wrong.
One myth is the names of his ships. Columbus’ lonely sailors nicknamed these ships after women. The real names are forgotten by all but historians; it’s the nicknames we know today.
Two ships were named after what these sailors missed the most — prostitutes. Maria was a well-loved prostitute, and Pintada, or “the painted one”, was local slang for same. Naturally, church and elementary school officials sanitized those details over the years.
There are undoubtedly others out there… know of any?
I just watched a show on art forgery and it got me thinking.
There’s this painting. At first, it’s just a nice little painting in the Renaissance style. Some guy paid a couple thousand dollars for it and hung it in his restaurant.
Then someone said it was most definitely from the Renaissance, and the painting suddenly got a lot more valuable. Tens of thousands of dollars.
Then someone said it was a Da Vinci, and suddenly it was worth millions. No, hundreds of millions. Hell no, it’s priceless.
Then it goes before a panel of experts. Some say it’s genuine. It’s sublime. It’s for realz.
But some say it doesn’t reflect Da Vinci’s genius. They pull out a magnifying glass and point to obscure details, like these brush strokes are 10 degrees too close to the vertical. It’s definitely not a Da Vinci.
But someone carbon dates the vellum, and it’s from the Renaissance period. Well. Maybe it is a Da Vinci.
Not so fast! A master forger shows how he can take an old painting, scrape off the paint, and paint a copy of a Monet on top of it. This guy’s painting looks like the real thing, even when put next to the real thing. He put a modern forgery on ancient canvas. Carbon dating proves nothing.
So…. now what?
They bring in more technology.
We get X-rays, super high res photos, color filters, infra-red cameras, digital re-layering, 3D reproductions, extreme magnification, side-by-side comparisons with the Mona Lisa. Special software. Statistical comparison. Historians. Fashion experts. Hairstyle experts. Paint experts.
After all that, most, but not all, of these experts say:
It’s a fake. Game over, thanks for playing.
Suddenly the painting is worth nothing.
What the hell — it’s still the same damned painting! It hasn’t changed in the least. The only thing that has changed is who people think painted it.
And it took a couple dozen experts with Terminator technology to figure that out. No one could tell if they stood back and admired it. You know, like the way you are supposed to appreciate art.
So that begs some fascinating questions:
When people buy art, what are they paying for? The painting, or the artist?
Isn’t good art worth the same, no matter who created it?
Why is Picasso’s toilet paper worth more than an art student’s masterpiece?
I’ve seen the Mona Lisa up close, and she is captivating. I’ve gaped at the Sistine Chapel in awe. I loved Blue Water Lilies before I knew who painted it. But this little painting I got in Mexico by some street artist for $10, well… it’s mine, and it makes me happy.
When our leader wanted us to go to war, most of us got behind him. When our leader wants us to burn less oil and coal to save the planet, most of us go against him.
Doesn’t that seem backward?
I watch a lot of late night TV. Fortunately, I watch it during the day.
Basic cable channels repeat their shows at night. You could say it’s because there is not enough programming to fill fifty thousand cable channels. And you would be right.
But me, I consider the convenience. I can plug my shows into the DVR before I go to bed, then watch them the next day.
There is one problem, though. These late night commercials are really lacking in imagination and production value.
Instead of famous people and snazzy special effects, as is the preference with prime time commercials, these late night gems rely on giant fonts and direct assaults on one of my five basic senses.
First, there are the ads that appeal to my sense of lust. They have women of questionable legal age telling me how much fun I will have if I pick up the phone and call some number. Do it now!
Well, I would love to believe that every girl on this chat line will be as hot as them. I would love to believe that I could find Miss Right (or even Miss Right Now) with a simple phone call. I would love to believe it’s not going to be a bunch of lonely guys talking to a few professionals at five bucks a minute.
But I don’t.
Plus there is this thing called The Internet, where you get pictures too…
Next is my sense of greed. Every fourth commercial is a lawyer telling me I could be entitled to some money. All I need is a bad hip transplant, fallen vaginal mesh, infection after surgery, or other stuff I can’t pronounce. They list symptoms so broad that even I could qualify for a fallen vaginal mesh. (They don’t list the vagina.)
Others appeal to my sense of vengeance. If I was injured in an accident, I should sue whoever hit me, because it wasn’t my fault, and these kind lawyers only want to help me get what I deserve. (The emphasis is theirs.)
It’s empowering to know if I can’t sue a doctor, I can still sue ordinary people.
Then there is my sense of fear. Pharmaceutical companies have ads that list ten symptoms and if I have three of them it means I have this horrible disease and I should mention some official-sounding drug to my doctor next time I see him… which had better be tomorrow.
And let’s not forget the long list of side effects that sound worse than the disease. The commercial reels them off in a soothing voice against soothing music while showing beautiful scenes of beautiful people doing beautiful things.
I don’t care if Xylosferitrapitol is an anti-depressant that can cause depression — I want to look like those people! Give me some of that!
Next is my sense of ignorance. These guys tell me they know why my PC is running slowly. It seems fine to me… but now that you mention it, yeah, it should be faster. It’s a computer, right?
Of course these guys have the cure. Just buy this free program (you only pay shipping and handling) and let it run roughshod all over your computer and look through all your data and do God-knows-what with your bank accounts and family pictures.
Fortunately, I’m not ignorant. I know this free program will actually slow my PC down by loading it with crapware, and they will sell my data to the highest bidder.
Of course if I don’t like it, I can send the free program back. I only have to pay shipping and handling again.
Word of advice: don’t use anything for your computer that is advertised on TV. A quick scan of the interwebs for things like ‘removing crapware’ or ‘scan for malware’ will find lots of advice from well respected places for removing crap from your computer. And Windows users — don’t forget the one from Microsoft, which is free and offers some of the best protection out there.
Oops, I almost forgot my sixth sense. Some guys have ESP. They can read my mind.
Three commercials in a row declare they know why I’m awake. They each give different reasons… but they are all wrong.
I am not awake because I am worrying about fitting into my pants, or because I owe the IRS money, or because I want pancakes in the morning.
I am awake because I am watching this in the middle of the day.
So they can’t really read minds. A pity.
That is something that would actually interest me.
P.S. when I googled “vaginal mesh” the top hit was a Wikipedia page explaining it was to correct female genital prolapse. The other hits were all lawyers. From this I conclude that lawyers make more money from this than doctors. Or patients.
P.P.S. stay away from phone sex. It causes hearing AIDS! 😛