December 24, 2007

#01-052: Clichés - Part I: As X as Y

numerous plastic bottles of laundry detergent in what looks like a warehouse
"Our detergent will get your sheets as white as possible"

Note: In Lesson #01-030, I wrote about "Similes and Metaphors," and made passing reference to the danger of using clichés. Let's return for a closer look at what a cliché is, and how to use one correctly.

Get Ready: Do you know anyone who can't seem to express her- or himself without using a lot of clichés? How does a person like that sound?

A cliché is a phrase that may once have been fresh and interesting, but has become stale from overuse. We all use clichés from time to time; the problem is when our speech or writing becomes so loaded with them that we lose our audience.

For learners of English as a second language, there is an added problem: What sounds overused to a native speaker may be brand new to someone just learning the language!

The only way to avoid this is to look up lists of clichés and learn to recognize them.


In the following two lessons, we will examine ten clichés of the form "as X as Y": as busy as a bee, or as fresh as a daisy. But before we do so, here are some tips to help you extend your vocabulary even further. You can add the following endings for the second part of almost any "as X as Y" expressions and get the same effect. However, these are really overused, so you should use them only if you can't think of anything else:

  • "as possible": "Our detergent will get your sheets as white as possible." Useful, but boring. (However, "as soon as possible" is a fixed phrase, and even has an acronym, ASAP, pronounced AY-sap, rhyming with PLAY-gap.)
  • "as it gets," "as you can get," "as they get," etc.: "This cliché is as boring as it gets." "This is as good a mark as you can get." There is also a very slangy version of this, "as all get out." "After work yesterday, I was as tired as all get out." And with "they" we sometimes use "come": "That guy is as stupid as they come."
  • "as ever": "How's work?" "It's as busy as ever."

You can use these ending for virtually any "as X as Y" simile--but try to be more creative!


For your information, here are the ten clichés (using like or as) that we'll look more closely at in the next two lessons.

    • as fresh as a daisy
    • as good as gold
    • as mad as a hatter
    • as old as the hills
    • as white as snow


Read more:

Practice: Match the halves of the sentences.

  1. Clichés are phrases that have been used so many times,
  2. Some clichés were probably
  3. Everyone uses clichés,
  4. It might be difficult for English learners to
  5. One way to learn to recognize clichés

  1. but we should be careful not to use them too much.
  2. interesting when they were new.
  3. is to study lists of them
  4. they have lost their effectiveness.
  5. recognize clichés when they see them.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 24, 2007

The three lessons on clichés received a combined 828 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and July, 2021.

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