Clichés aren't what they used to beClichés are always tired. Increasingly, they are also wrong.
" style="float: left; margin: 5px;" />TECHNOLOGY constantly overtakes language. Recent additions to the Oxford English Dictionary have included po-faced entries for Google (the verb), wiki and mash-up. But most clichés are stubbornly indifferent to such concerns. Indeed, they often act as a linguistic fossil record, preserving objects and behaviour that have long since fallen into petrified obsolescence. Industrious sorts no longer burn the midnight oil. Flashes in the pan are common even if the flintlock muskets that gave rise to them are museum pieces. Colours are still nailed to masts, metal though they now usually are.
In a technological age ever more clichés are being untethered from their origins in this way. People write out plenty of metaphorical cheques, whether blank or bouncing. Many of them are to be found in the post, but fewer in real life (some shops no longer accept them). There is no need to keep your cards close to your chest, or indeed an ace up your sleeve, when so much gambling happens online. Thanks to reviews, awards and celebrity book-club stickers, you can in fact judge a book by its cover. If you carry a mobile phone, write e-mail or post entries on MySpace, being out of sight does not mean being out of mind. And in the age of the iPod, no one can be accused of being unable to carry a tune.
Old assumptions are stranded by other changes too. Currencies fluctuate: the dollar looks less than almighty, at least for the moment. Populations evolve: Tom, Dick and Harry make for an unrepresentative trio of everymen today; Kevin, Chloe and Muhammad would be more accurate. Trade patterns shift: turning down all the tea in China would weigh heavily, to be sure, but the European Union is more impressed by the Chinese production of bras and dressing-gowns. Today's coast is never clear but always strewn with plastic and other detritus. Rare is the athlete who can radiate Olympian calm at a modern-day Olympic games.
Earnest environmental concerns are also starting to flip well-worn phrases on their heads. Putting new wine into old bottles is now to be applauded. Where it was once desirable to trail clouds of glory, they now require emissions credits. Regulators are another threat. Hunting-grounds, happy or not, are fewer in number. Recently shelved plans by the European Commission to get rid of Britain's imperial measures endangered all manner of activities, from exacting a pound of flesh, inching forward and feeling ten feet tall to being miles away.
Being archaic does not always make a cliché redundant. People still jump on bandwagons, read the riot act, burn the candle at both ends and keep irons in fires. As long as its meaning is clear, a saying can be both historic and current.
The trouble comes when technology robs a cliché of its substance as well as its form. When love fades, the jilted may seek consolation in the thought that there are plenty more fish in the sea. But there aren't: the oceans have been plundered. For everything there is a season is a phrase with a ring of majestic certainty. But with air-freighted fruit and genetically modified veg, it too is wrong. And if once it was believed that the camera never lied, PhotoShop should have taught that the lens bends the truth as effortlessly as it bends light itself. As for rocket science, not long ago it was held up as the paragon of baffling complexity. Now, as tourists hurtle into space and almost every failed state seems poised to go ballistic, rocket science seems less sophisticated. Proud owners of silicon implants scoff at the notion that beauty is only skin-deep. Among the transgendered, Bob is as likely to be your auntie as your uncle.
The moral of it all? Clichés just aren't what they used to be.
from The Economist: [link]