R. Ann Siracusa talks Cliches

Hi everyone – 

We’re very excited that our chapter mate, Ann Siracusa, has volunteered for a monthly guest blog spot on our RWASD Blog!

If any other chapter members are interested in a monthly spot, please email Lisa Kessler at LdyDisney at aol.com


A Personal Opinion Regarding The Use Of Clichés

By R. Ann Siracusa

That’s a phrase authors hear many times, particularly at the beginning of their writing careers.  Editors, agents and successful authors insist there are no rules.  You have to do what is right for you.  Whatever works.  You can do anything if you do it right.

Maybe yes, maybe no.  But if there is one rule, it is “Don’t Use Clichés!”

Since Cliché happens to be one of my best and favorite languages, let’s take another look.  The Random House Webster’s College Dictionary published in 2000 defines a cliché (with or without the accent, by the way) as “a trite stereotyped expression” or “anything that has become commonplace through overuse.”

Okay, we’ve got that.

Even recognizing that fiction is not real life, and dialogue in books is not just everyday conversation, clichés are a legitimate part of the English language.  All you have to do is listen to the people around you and how they speak.  Listen to the television or the radio.  Go to movies.

We all use clichés in our speech at some time or another.  And the reason is because the expressions are trite and commonplace from overuse.  That’s why most people know what they mean.  Often, the listener has had the same experience or heard the manner of speech so usually there is no question what it is intended to mean.

They work!

The operative words are intended to mean.  Many people who recognize the intent may have no idea what the original and/or real meaning is, only the situation or action the words represent at this point in time.  Unless you are a gardener, you may not know that “nipping (something) in the bud” actually means pinching off the bud or new growth of a plant so that more new growth will emerge on either side and make the plant fuller, or have more blooms.

Human beings—and apparently the writers of dictionaries fall into this category—are perverse animals rife with the tendency to be inconsistent.  It’s interesting to note that while my handy, dandy, and outdated Random House Webster’s College Dictionary defines a cliché as a word or expression that is overused and trite, those are precisely the requirements for adding new words to the dictionary.

“To be included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time. Specifically, the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency, and meaning.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/help/faq/words_in.htm

Go figure.

As writers, words are the tools of our trade, but how many of us actually study Etymology, the origins and development of words?  (No, not Entomology—that’s bugs.)  And we may not pay a lot of attention to words that slip into the English language (or out of it, sometimes, by redefinition or disuse).

Science, technology, and new products account for a large number of new words.  Foreign words, combinations of existing words to form new ideas, slang, idioms, common expressions, redefinitions, and offensive words by the thousands find their way into the English language each year.

They have made it when they are used frequently and consistently enough throughout English speaking countries that NCD (New College Dictionary) adds them to the next edition of their publication.

To give you the flavor, take a look at very short list of words, by decade, added to the English dictionary (and no, I didn’t bother to alphabetize them).  I would be surprised if there isn’t at least one of the words on the list that you consider a cliché, while some of them may be so new you don’t know what they mean.  I certainly didn’t and your spell check won’t, either.

1940’s : A-bomb, aromatherapy, baby-sit, barf, bikini, eager beaver, carhop, gobbledygook, goof ball, name dropping, quisling, yada-yada-yada, zonk.

1950’s: acrylic fiber, aerospace, beatnik, biathlon, discotheque, do-it-yourself, hang-up, pay television, karate, Rastafarian, real-time, TV dinner, UFO, theme park, zinger, weirdo.

1960’s: aerobics, database, pantyhose, nose job, soft lens, gentrify, third world, Op-Ed, space shuttle, time frame, security blanket, zilch, zit, love-in, jet lag, quark, quick fix.

1970’s: acquaintance rape, CAT scan, 800 number, gridlock, gigabyte, gazillion, diskette, downsize, double-dipping, pig-out, reality check, VCR, wish list, wacko, jump-start, housesit, pooper-scooper

1980s: abs, designer drug, ozone hole, dis, slippery slope, snowboard, telemarketing, rollerblade, skank, wuss, yuppie, CD-ROM, buffalo wing, cyberpunk, gelati, safe-sex.

1990’s: anatomically-correct, arm candy, McJob, senior moment, phone tag, Web site, strip mall, fashionista, lapdancer, bad hair day, call waiting. scrunchy, take-no-prisoners, PCS, soccer mom.

2008 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary: air quotes, dark energy, dirty bomb, dwarf planet, edamame, fanboy, infinity pool, jukebox musical, kiteboarding, malware, mental health day, mondegreen,. Netroots, norovirus, pescatarian, phytonutrient, pretexting, prosecco, racino, soju, subprime, supercross, Texas Hold ’em, webinar, wing nut.

2011 The Oxford-English Dictionary just added 45,436 new phrases as words, and among them is the first symbol to ever grace the volume, ‘♥’ and phrases like FYI, OMG, and LOL.

2011 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary: Americana (a genre of music), boomerang child, bromance, continuous positive airway pressure, cougar, crowdsourcing, duathlon, fist bump, helicopter parent, m-commerce, parkour, robocall, social media, tweet, walk-off.

I would never presume to put my opinions above the advice from the likes of Catherine Coulter, Jennifer Cruise, and the other published, and unpublished, authors you’ve heard speak on writing.  They know—I don’t.  But I do know that English is a rich language.

In 1947, American College Dictionary, one of first to include new words, boasted 132,000 words, one of the largest of its time.  Today, the Oxford English Dictionary has 500,000 words, 616,500 words forms, and another 500,000 technical terms (one million words).  Webster’s Third New International Dictionary has 450,000 words.

We are writers, my friends.  People learn from us.  We learn from each other.  We should be skilled enough at our craft to command the use of as many of those half a million plus English words as possible.  I can assure you that every book I read by one of the authors I’ve heard speak to our chapter or at a conference, includes at least one new word I have to look up and uses at least one cliché.  Don’t let them fool you.  They don’t want any competition.

Okay, okay.  You have my permission to combine words in new and fresh ways—I can live with that.  And you have my encouragement to use clichés sparingly or not at all, as you see fit.  (Oops! Another cliché).  But know your language.  Know the words, what they mean, and how to use them—then, make the choice of which ones best suit the story you are telling and the way and to whom you are telling it.

Wield the words of your language with skill and assurance, and make every one of them count.  (And never, never trust your computer’s spell check.)







We’re also celebrating with Ann on her new release!!!

Release Day – September 28, 2012

Book 2 in theTour Director Extraordinaire Series


By R. Ann Siracusa

A young tour director and a handsome spy take a fast-paced romantic romp through Italy in pursuit of a lost grave, an assassin, and a once-in-a-lifetime love.

Breathless Press Buy Link
E-book format only – 97K
ISBN 978-1-77101-827-2


I’m Harriet Ruby: Tour Director Extraordinaire. At least, I thought I was worthy of that title, until…

My first mistake: Agreeing to conduct a private tour of Italy. Fourteen Italian-Americans from New Jersey? All family, for three weeks, with four teenagers? What was I thinking? Fate responds to my engraved invitation by placing one of the family members under surveillance as a suspect in an assassination plot. And who is assigned to the case? None other than my favorite drop-dead-gorgeous spy, Will Talbot.

My second mistake: Allowing Will to coax an invitation from the family matriarch to join the tour.

And that was just the beginning. The matriarch, searching for the unknown location of her mother’s grave so she can bury her brother’s cremated ashes (which have been smuggled into Italy wrapped in Cuban cigars), and her quirky family members sweep through Italy leaving chaos, hilarity, and danger in their wake.



The next morning before breakfast, I met with Vita Spinella, the family matriarch of my tour group, and explained my request to take Will with us.  She listened as she sipped her room service coffee.  When I finished, she put down her cup, picked up her cane, and set it across her lap.


“So, you want my approval to bring this young man―what’s his name―on our trip.”  She wasn’t asking, merely confirming her understanding.

“His name is Will Talbot.”

My gaze fixed nervously on her instrument of torture, trying not to cringe.  The old gal wielded that thing with lightning speed and enjoyed doing a little damage if, in her opinion, the circumstances warranted.  With what I’d seen of her family, the cane wasn’t a bad thing, but she was pretty scary.  No wonder her grandson Eric didn’t want her to find out about the snake he’d brought with him on the trip.

Lifting my shoulders in a shrug, I attempted nonchalance, hoping I wouldn’t break out in a cold sweat or pass out.  “It’s just a thought.  He seemed at a loss since his friends had to go back home.  And we have plenty of room in the van.”

I couldn’t read her expression.  She hid her reactions well.  In fact, the possibility of Will and Vita playing off each other sparked my interest.  Would they be allies or competitors?  The thought of watching them try to outwit each other delighted me.  Sparks might fly, and she wouldn’t believe for a second he was at a loss about anything, but I would bet they’d hit it off big time.

“But if it’s not convenient for you or your family objects, I have no commitment to him.  He’s only a friend of my brother’s.  I’ll simply tell him no.”

Oh, please, say yes.  Crossing my fingers, even behind my back, was out of the question. The old lady might have the sight, like one of my aunts.  Another of my Italian cousins claimed she had the evil eye.  I don’t believe in either one―exactly―but since my karma took a nose dive into the crapper, I hadn’t been taking any chances.

Vita studied me for a long time, her stare blatant and unblinking, her dark eyes as deep as the universe.  As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t look away.  My palms grew damp.  Nervous, I clasped my hands in my lap to avoid rubbing them together.  She let me stew until I ached to run screaming from the room, then leaned forward.

“You seem like a nice wholesome young lady.  Immature, headstrong, unfocused, but honest and caring.  You’re a good person.”

Well, that really inspires confidence.  Thanks…I think.  By now, my blood pressure had shot through the roof.  I was perspiring by the bucket load.  My tongue thickened and stuck to the roof of my mouth, disabling any ability to speak.

Her eyes narrowed to a squint.  “You like this man, don’t you?”

“Will?”  My voice squeaked like bad brakes on a cold morning.  I lowered my gaze and studied my clenched hands twisting in my lap.  My cheeks burned.  “Well, yes, I do like him, although I don’t really know him.  He seems very nice.”

The truth, as far as it went.  I didn’t dare attempt anything else.  My guts quivered with trepidation for fear she would intuit the part I’d left out.  I doubted there were many people on this earth who could lie to Vita Spinella, and I felt sure those who did would regret it sooner rather than later.

“Forget about like and nice.  That’s wishy-washy.  Do you know him in the Biblical sense?  Are you intimate?”

So much for wishy-washy.

My jaw dropped, and I thought my eyeballs were going to pop out of their sockets and fall into her coffee.  Well, poop.  She had me by the short hairs on that one.

Pleased with the shock value, she sat back and relaxed.  “Forgive an old woman for asking.”  Her self-satisfied smile warned me not to perjure myself by fibbing.  “Anyway, you’ve already told me what I wanted to know.”

Me?  Transparent?  I suppose I provided her morning entertainment before she got a shot at the rest of her relatives.

“One of the few advantages of being old is that I can say all kinds of outrageous things, and no one can do anything about it.”  She emitted a gleeful cackle.  “You realize some of my grandchildren are on this trip.  I brought them here to expose them to their roots.  Not that any of them are interested.”  She rolled her eyes and shook her head with a resigned sigh.  “These younger generations worry me sometimes.”

By then I’d recovered a small amount of my composure.

Signora Spinella, I would never allow anything personal to become a bad influence on your grandchildren.”

Vita lifted her chin and clicked her tongue.  “I know that, young lady, but didn’t mean you and this Will Talbot of yours.  You could do the deed in the aisle of the bus, and I doubt my grandchildren would even notice.”  She paused and looked thoughtful before she went on.

“In fact, it might be good for them to be exposed to a healthy sexual relationship for a change.  There certainly aren’t any in this family.  They’re all too busy cheating on spouses and practicing one-upmanship to work at a relationship.  And some of them are perverts, plain and simple.”

Well, that didn’t leave a lot for me to say, did it?

Don’t miss the free read short story – FIRST DATE
First Date – Download Link

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