This month, we explore idioms vs. clichés and usage of counterpoint phrases. Plus, we’ve got more Confusables and an epic grammar fail.
Idioms vs. Clichés
Clichés get a bad rap for good reason. One could argue a phrase becomes a cliché because there is truth to it, but clichés are typically overused, tired phrases. An idiom is also a popular phrase but there is more support for its usage. Let’s look at the differences between idioms and clichés.
“Clichés are wilted flowers in the gardens of idioms and expressions.”
– Ralph J. Fletcher, Pyrotechnics on the Page.
An easy way to identify a cliché is if you can complete a phrase before you finish reading it, as in “better late than ____.” This is a typically overused expression. While there are both figurative and literal clichés, idioms are always figurative. Figurative clichés would not make literal sense if translated in any language, while literal clichés would. For example:
- Figurative cliché: “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
- Literal cliché: “My lips are sealed.”
- Idioms (always figurative):
– “Jump the gun”
– “Go over it with a fine-tooth comb”
– “Acid test”
– “Get your ducks in a row”
– “Got the blues”
– “Burn the candle at both ends”
It’s usually best to avoid clichés unless there is a specific reason to use one. Idioms, on the other hand (note the idiom), can punch up or quickly clarify what you are saying, but should be used sparingly. Knowing your audience is key. Imagine the reaction of someone learning English to reading “He has skeletons in his closet.” For more examples of idioms, see http://examples.yourdictionary.com/idiom.html.
Usage: Introducing a Counterpoint
Speaking of phrases, one that has gained traction recently and even seems to get a ‘pass’ from some grammarians is “that being said.” I bet many OnWords readers find this phrase to be quite off-putting. The principal problem is ‘being’ has no place in the phrase.
When introducing a counterpoint to something you’ve said with the preferable ‘having said that,’ follow it immediately by a comma and the pronoun ‘I.’ For example, “Having said that, I think we still need to attend.” Another option is ‘that said,’ which also must be followed by a personal pronoun. For example, a line like “Having said that, there is still space on the plane if any of you want to go,” is grammatically incorrect and never acceptable in formal writing.
A second problem with a phrase such as ‘that said’ is the way the meaning has morphed from use as a preface to an apparent contradiction — e.g. “I believe x = y. That said, I think there are exceptions.” Another example of incorrect use is prefacing a summary statement, as in, “My favourite performances were Jay’s and Bill’s. That said, I choose Bill as the winner.”
Pairs of words from The New American Dictionary of Difficult Words which are often mistaken for one another or used incorrectly:
Genuine/authentic – Something ‘genuine’ can be verified as what it is claimed to be (genuine sapphires); an ‘authentic’ item may or may not be genuine (original) but is historically accurate, as in a Craftsman-style home with authentic period details.
Gourmet/gourmand – Simply put, a ‘gourmet’ enjoys and is very knowledgeable about food and wine, while a ‘gourmand’ enjoys good food and drink, but may not know a lot about them.
Epic Grammar Fail
Uh oh. At first glance, this rental agreement gives new tenants huge responsibilities. A family member and her fiancé posted an excerpt on Facebook with this caption:
“Apparently we are landlord and property manager?”