The Road to Prosperity is Paved in Clichés

Don’t you just love clichés?  Last evening, I was watching Dead Like Me on Amazon prime, and I took special note of episode 9, because the dad’s lecture struck a chord with me.  He said, “When you are suffering, truly suffering, it is the clichés that heal you … They are the things that have stuck to the wall.”  So, I thought back at the first cliché I recall, the one that ‘stuck’ for me, and it is a rhyme.  I continued to recall others, and I realized this would be the topic of today’s blog, beginning with,

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But names will never hurt me.
     – Old English Rhyme, mid 1800s

Many of us remember this rhyme from childhood.  As children, my sisters and I would wield this rhyme like armor against those who’d hurl shame and slander upon our good names!  And we got our fair share of the same back, but bravado didn’t lessen the pain.

Where the rhyme is meant to keep us calm in the face of childish assault, the reality is words hurt more than physical pain.  Where action is concrete and observable, we often don’t know the true intent behind words without action, especially when they don’t match; they are incongruous.  Enter the proverb,

Actions speak louder than words
     – Attributed to Abraham Lincoln, 1856 and
Anecdotally to Mark Twain (unconfirmed), 1834-1910

I remember hearing this little ditty for the first time in my high school English class.  It made sense to me, because we may say we’ll do something, but often do not.  Further, we can ‘see’ and ‘feel’ action, it is knowable.  Words, on the other hand, can easily be changed and avoided, often twisting them to hide intent.  And as many of us know, 

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
     – Attributed to Samuel Johnson, 1790, who

referenced St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s earlier
sermon, ‘hell is full of good wishes or desires’, 1150

I can only surmise St. Bernard’s meaning given the context as a sermon, that people can say something that sounds good, but their true intent is evil. We see this often enough in our government and political platforms.  Many pundits and politicians will say anything to get our attention and win elections without any concern for voters.  After they are elected, they forget their promises or succumb to the political machine.  Talk about a road to hell … one can only hope

Where intent goes, action follows.
     – Sanskrit religious concept, Karma

As you can tell, clichés are truly embedded in our culture and our subconscious.  Though professional writers tell us to avoid these overused and ‘trite’ phrases, they persist.  We use them to express ourselves, knowing we will be understood in any context.  Unlike good intentions, clichés leave no doubt about their meaning.

Good deeds speak louder than good intentions;
And a good cliché will never die.
     – BJ, Women’s Guild, 2016

You heard it here first, folks!

Dedicated to my sisters.

Leave a Reply