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681 Cliches to Avoid in Your Creative Writing

Cliches (properly spelled clichés, with the acute accent) are words and phrases, once interesting, which have lost their original effect from overuse. They are considered trite and should be avoided in writing unless used purposely for effect.

We all use them without thinking, sometimes because they fit the bill or are just the ticket (both cliches), but usually because they're metaphors, idiom, or truisms that have become so common we no longer notice them. If we say better late than never or speak of someone being down in the dumps , we likely won't register that we just used a cliche. Speech is filled with shortcuts as we aim to make ourselves understood. Check the cliches below to see if you're prone to using them.

Writing that relies heavily on cliches is considered poor or lazy writing. Editors may reject creative writing on the basis of too many cliches alone. Reviewers will point them out if it is not obvious that the writer used them for comic effect, such as to define an overly earnest or boring character. Occasionally an idiomatic cliche works well to help characterize with humour, such as a character who says, Well isn't that enough to piss off the Pope? In such cases it will be clear that the cliches are used for special effect.

The list of cliches below is not meant to be comprehensive, but should help you catch some of the more common cliches in use. If you've heard something described as you have described it in your work, my advice is to substitute the phrase with something more original.

If some cliches slip by you and your editor, it's not the end of the world. It is difficult to catch them all, but strive to note cliched phrases when you see them, so you may use a fresher phrase in the future. If cliches are frequent and easy to spot, you're not doing your job as a writer, and you might spend more time weeding them out.

Cliche list A-K:

    A

  1. a chip off the old block
  2. a clean slate
  3. a dark and stormy night
  4. a far cry
  5. a fine kettle of fish
  6. a good/kind soul
  7. a loose cannon
  8. a pain in the neck/butt
  9. a penny saved is a penny earned
  10. a tough row to hoe
  11. a word to the wise
  12. ace in the hole
  13. ace up his sleeve
  14. add insult to injury
  15. afraid of his own shadow
  16. against all odds
  17. air your dirty laundry
  18. all fun and games
  19. all in a day's work
  20. all talk, no action
  21. all thumbs
  22. all your eggs in one basket
  23. all's fair in love and war
  24. all's well that ends well
  25. almighty dollar
  26. American as apple pie
  27. an axe to grind
  28. another day, another dollar
  29. armed to the teeth
  30. as luck would have it
  31. as old as time
  32. as the crow flies
  33. at my wits end
  34. avoid like the plague

    B

  35. babe in the woods
  36. back against the wall
  37. back in the saddle
  38. back to square one
  39. back to the drawing board
  40. bad to the bone
  41. badge of honor
  42. bald faced liar
  43. banging your head against a brick wall
  44. ballpark figure
  45. baptism by fire
  46. bark is worse than her bite
  47. barking up the wrong tree
  48. bat out of hell
  49. be all and end all
  50. beat a dead horse
  51. beat around the bush
  52. bee in her bonnet
  53. been there, done that
  54. beggars can't be choosers
  55. behind the eight ball
  56. bend over backwards
  57. benefit of the doubt
  58. bent out of shape
  59. best thing since sliced bread
  60. bet your bottom dollar
  61. better half
  62. better late than never
  63. better mousetrap
  64. better safe than sorry
  65. between a rock and a hard place
  66. beyond the pale
  67. bide your time
  68. big as life
  69. big fish in a small pond
  70. big cheese
  71. big man on campus
  72. bigger they are the harder they fall
  73. bird in the hand
  74. birds and the bees
  75. bird's eye view
  76. birds of a feather flock together
  77. bite the bullet
  78. bite the dust
  79. bit the hand that feeds you
  80. bitten off more than he can chew
  81. black as coal
  82. black as pitch
  83. black as the ace of spades
  84. blast from the past
  85. bleeding heart
  86. blessing in disguise
  87. blind ambition
  88. blind as a bat
  89. blind leading the blind
  90. blood is thicker than water
  91. blood sweat and tears
  92. blow off steam
  93. blow your own horn
  94. blushing bride
  95. boils down to
  96. bone to pick
  97. bored to tears
  98. bored stiff
  99. bottomless pit
  100. boys will be boys
  101. bright and early
  102. brings home the bacon
  103. broad across the beam
  104. broken record
  105. bull by the horns
  106. bull in a china shop
  107. burn the midnight oil
  108. burning the candle at both ends
  109. burning question
  110. burst your bubble
  111. bury the hatchet
  112. busy as a bee
  113. by hook or by crook

    C

  114. call a spade a spade
  115. called onto the carpet
  116. calm before the storm
  117. can of worms
  118. can't cut the mustard
  119. can't hold a candle to
  120. case of mistaken identity
  121. cat got your tongue
  122. caught in the crossfire
  123. caught red-handed
  124. caught with his/her pants down
  125. checkered past
  126. chip on his/her shoulder
  127. chomping at the bit
  128. cleanliness is next to godliness
  129. clear as a bell
  130. clear as mud
  131. close to the vest
  132. cock and bull story
  133. cold shoulder
  134. come hell or high water
  135. cost a king's ransom
  136. cost/paid an arm and a leg
  137. count your blessings
  138. crack of dawn
  139. crash course
  140. creature comforts
  141. cross that bridge when you come to it
  142. cry her eyes out
  143. cry like a baby
  144. cry me a river
  145. crystal clear
  146. curiosity killed the cat
  147. cut and dried
  148. cut through the red tape
  149. cut to the chase
  150. cute as a bugs ear
  151. cute as a button
  152. cute as a puppy
  153. cuts to the quick

    D

  154. dark before the dawn
  155. day in, day out
  156. dead as a doornail
  157. devil is in the details
  158. dime a dozen
  159. divide and conquer
  160. dog and pony show
  161. dog days
  162. dog eat dog
  163. dog tired
  164. don't burn your bridges
  165. don't count your chickens before they're hatched
  166. don't look a gift horse in the mouth
  167. don't rock the boat
  168. don't step on anyone's toes
  169. don't take any wooden nickels
  170. down and out
  171. down at the heels
  172. down in the dumps
  173. down on his/her luck
  174. down the hatch
  175. down to earth
  176. draw the line
  177. dressed to kill
  178. dressed to the nines
  179. drives me up the wall
  180. dull as dishwater
  181. dyed in the wool

    E

  182. eagle eye
  183. easy as pie
  184. eat your heart out
  185. eat your words
  186. enough to piss off the Pope
  187. ear to the ground
  188. early bird catches the worm
  189. earn his/her keep
  190. easier said than done
  191. easy as 1-2-3
  192. easy as pie
  193. eleventh hour
  194. even the playing field
  195. every dog has its day
  196. every fiber of my being
  197. everything but the kitchen sink
  198. eye for an eye
  199. eyes in the back of her head

    F

  200. facts of life
  201. fair weather friend
  202. fan the flames
  203. fair weather friend
  204. fall by the wayside
  205. feast or famine
  206. feather in his cap
  207. feather your nest
  208. few and far between
  209. fifteen minutes of fame
  210. filthy vermin
  211. fine kettle of fish
  212. fish out of water
  213. fishing for a compliment
  214. fit as a fiddle
  215. fit the bill
  216. fit to be tied
  217. flat as a pancake
  218. flip your lid
  219. flog a dead horse
  220. fly by night
  221. fly the coop
  222. follow your heart
  223. for all intents and purposes
  224. for the birds
  225. for what it's worth
  226. force of nature
  227. force to be reckoned with
  228. forgive and forget
  229. fox in the henhouse
  230. free and easy
  231. free as a bird
  232. fresh as a daisy
  233. full steam ahead
  234. fun in the sun

    G

  235. garbage in, garbage out
  236. get a kick out of
  237. get a leg up
  238. get down and dirty
  239. get his/her back up
  240. get the lead out
  241. get to the bottom of
  242. get your feet wet
  243. gets my goat
  244. gilding the lily
  245. give and take
  246. go against the grain
  247. go for broke
  248. go him one better
  249. go the extra mile
  250. go with the flow
  251. goes without saying
  252. good as gold
  253. good deed for the day
  254. good things come to those who wait
  255. good time was had by all
  256. greek to me
  257. green thumb
  258. green-eyed monster
  259. growing like a weed
  260. grist for the mill

    H

  261. hair of the dog
  262. hand to mouth
  263. happy as a clam
  264. hasn't a clue
  265. have a nice day
  266. have high hopes
  267. haven't got a row to hoe
  268. have the last laugh
  269. head honcho
  270. hear a pin drop
  271. heard it through the grapevine
  272. heart's content
  273. hem and haw
  274. high and dry
  275. high and mighty
  276. high as a kite
  277. hit paydirt
  278. hold your horses
  279. hold your tongue
  280. hold your head up high
  281. hold your own
  282. honest as the day is long
  283. horse of a different color
  284. hot under the collar

    I

  285. I beg to differ
  286. icing on the cake
  287. if the shoe fits
  288. if the shoe were on the other foot
  289. in a jam
  290. in a jiffy
  291. in a nutshell
  292. in a pig's eye
  293. in a pinch
  294. in a word
  295. in his/her element
  296. in hot water
  297. in over his/her head
  298. in the gutter
  299. in the nick of time
  300. in the thick of it
  301. in this day and age
  302. in your dreams
  303. it ain't over till the fat lady sings
  304. it goes without saying
  305. it's a small world
  306. it's only a matter of time
  307. it takes all kinds
  308. it takes one to know one
  309. ivory tower

    J

  310. Jack of all trades
  311. jockey for position
  312. jog your memory
  313. Johnny-come-lately
  314. joined at the hip
  315. judge a book by its cover
  316. jump down your throat
  317. jump in with both feet
  318. jump on the bandwagon
  319. jump the gun
  320. jump to conclusions
  321. just a hop, skip, and a jump
  322. just the ticket
  323. justice is blind

    K

  324. keep a stiff upper lip
  325. keep an eye on
  326. keep it simple, stupid
  327. keep the home fires burning
  328. keep up with the Joneses
  329. keep your chin up
  330. keep your fingers crossed
  331. kick the bucket
  332. kick up your heels
  333. kick your feet up
  334. kid in a candy store
  335. kill two birds with one stone
  336. kick his lights out
  337. kick the bucket
  338. kiss of death
  339. knock his block off
  340. knock it out of the park
  341. knock on wood
  342. knock your socks off
  343. know him from Adam
  344. know the ropes
  345. know the score
  346. knuckle down
  347. knuckle sandwich
  348. knuckle under

    Cliche list L-Z:

    L

  349. labor of love
  350. land on your feet
  351. lap of luxury
  352. last but not least
  353. last-ditch effort
  354. last hurrah
  355. law of the jungle
  356. law of the land
  357. lay down the law
  358. leaps and bounds
  359. let sleeping dogs lie
  360. letter perfect
  361. let the cat out of the bag
  362. let the good times roll
  363. let your hair down
  364. let's talk turkey
  365. lick your wounds
  366. lies like a rug
  367. life's a bitch
  368. life's a grind
  369. light at the end of the tunnel
  370. lighter than a feather
  371. lighter than air
  372. like clockwork
  373. like father like son
  374. like taking candy from a baby
  375. like there's no tomorrow
  376. lion's share
  377. live and learn
  378. live and let live
  379. long and short of it
  380. long lost love
  381. look before you leap
  382. look down your nose
  383. look what the cat dragged in
  384. looks like death warmed over
  385. loose cannon
  386. lose your head
  387. lose your temper
  388. loud as a horn
  389. lounge lizard
  390. loved and lost
  391. low man on the totem pole
  392. luck of the draw
  393. luck of the Irish

    M

  394. make hay while the sun shines
  395. make money hand over fist
  396. make my day
  397. make the best of a bad situation
  398. make the best of it
  399. make your blood boil
  400. man of few words
  401. man's best friend
  402. mark my words
  403. missed the boat on that one
  404. moment in the sun
  405. moment of glory
  406. moment of truth
  407. money to burn
  408. more power to you
  409. more than one way to skin a cat
  410. movers and shakers

    N

  411. naked as a jaybird
  412. naked truth
  413. neat as a pin
  414. needless to say
  415. neither here nor there
  416. never look back
  417. never say never
  418. nip and tuck
  419. nip it in the bud
  420. no guts, no glory
  421. no love lost
  422. no pain, no gain
  423. no skin off my back
  424. no stone unturned
  425. no time like the present
  426. no use crying over spilled milk
  427. nose to the grindstone
  428. not a hope in hell
  429. not a minute's peace
  430. not playing with a full deck
  431. not the end of the world
  432. not in my backyard
  433. not written in stone
  434. nothing to sneeze at
  435. nothing ventured nothing gained
  436. now we're cooking

    O

  437. off the top of my head
  438. off the wagon
  439. off the wall
  440. older and wiser
  441. older than dirt
  442. older than Methuselah
  443. old hat
  444. on a roll
  445. on cloud nine
  446. on his/her high horse
  447. on pins and needles
  448. on the bandwagon
  449. on the money
  450. on the nose
  451. on the rocks
  452. on the spot
  453. on the tip of my tongue
  454. on the wagon
  455. on thin ice
  456. once bitten, twice shy
  457. one bad apple doesn't spoil the bushel
  458. one born every minute
  459. one brick short
  460. one foot in the grave
  461. one in a million
  462. one red cent
  463. only game in town
  464. open a can of worms
  465. open the flood gates
  466. opportunity doesn't knock twice
  467. over the hump
  468. out of pocket
  469. out of sight, out of mind
  470. out of the frying pan into the fire
  471. out of the woods
  472. out on a limb
  473. over a barrel

    P

  474. pain and suffering
  475. panic button
  476. par for the course
  477. part and parcel
  478. party pooper
  479. pass the buck
  480. patience is a virtue
  481. pay through the nose
  482. penny pincher
  483. perfect storm
  484. pig in a poke
  485. pile it on
  486. pillar of the community
  487. pin your hopes on
  488. pitter patter of little feet
  489. plain as day
  490. plain as the nose on your face
  491. play by the rules
  492. play your cards right
  493. playing the field
  494. playing with fire
  495. pleased as punch
  496. plenty of fish in the sea
  497. poor as a church mouse
  498. pot calling the kettle black
  499. pull a fast one
  500. pull your punches
  501. pulled the wool over his/her eyes
  502. pulling your leg
  503. pure as the driven snow
  504. put one over on you
  505. put the pedal to the metal
  506. put the cart before the horse
  507. put your best foot forward
  508. put your foot down

    Q

  509. quick as a bunny
  510. quick as a lick
  511. quick as a wink
  512. quick as lightning
  513. quiet as a dormouse

    R

  514. rags to riches
  515. raining buckets
  516. raining cats and dogs
  517. rank and file
  518. reap what you sow
  519. red as a beet
  520. red herring
  521. reinvent the wheel
  522. rich and famous
  523. rings a bell
  524. ripped me off
  525. rise and shine
  526. road to hell is paved with good intentions
  527. rob Peter to pay Paul
  528. roll over in the grave
  529. rub the wrong way
  530. running in circles

    S

  531. salt of the earth
  532. scared out of his/her wits
  533. scared stiff
  534. scared to death
  535. sealed with a kiss
  536. second to none
  537. see eye to eye
  538. seen the light
  539. set the record straight
  540. set your teeth on edge
  541. sharp as a tack
  542. shoot the breeze
  543. shoot for the moon
  544. shot in the dark
  545. shoulder to the wheel
  546. sick as a dog
  547. sieze the day
  548. sigh of relief
  549. signed, sealed, and delivered
  550. sink or swim
  551. six of one, half a dozen of another
  552. skating on thin ice
  553. slept like a log
  554. slinging mud
  555. slippery as an eel
  556. slow as molasses in January
  557. smooth as a baby's bottom
  558. snug as a bug in a rug
  559. sow wild oats
  560. spare the rod, spoil the child
  561. speak of the devil
  562. spilled the beans
  563. spinning your wheels
  564. spitting image of
  565. spoke with relish
  566. spring to life
  567. stands out like a sore thumb
  568. squeaky wheel gets the grease
  569. start from scratch
  570. stick in the mud
  571. still waters run deep
  572. stitch in time
  573. stop and smell the roses
  574. straw that broke the camel's back
  575. strong as an ox
  576. stubborn as a mule
  577. stuff that dreams are made of
  578. stuffed shirt
  579. sweating blood
  580. sweating bullets

    T

  581. take a load off
  582. take one for the team
  583. take the bait
  584. take the bull by the horns
  585. take the plunge
  586. takes one to know one
  587. takes two to tango
  588. the more the merrier
  589. the real deal
  590. the real McCoy
  591. the red carpet treatment
  592. the same old story
  593. there is no accounting for taste
  594. thick as a brick
  595. thick as thieves
  596. think outside of the box
  597. third time's the charm
  598. this day and age
  599. this hurts me worse than it hurts you
  600. this point in time
  601. three sheets to the wind
  602. three strikes against him/her
  603. throw in the towel
  604. tie one on
  605. tighter than a drum
  606. time and time again
  607. time is of the essence
  608. tip of the iceberg
  609. to each his own
  610. to the best of my knowledge
  611. toe the line
  612. tongue-in-cheek
  613. too good to be true
  614. too hot to handle
  615. too numerous to mention
  616. touch with a ten foot pole
  617. tough as nails
  618. trials and tribulations
  619. tried and true
  620. trip down memory lane
  621. twist of fate
  622. two cents worth
  623. two peas in a pod

    U

  624. ugly as sin
  625. under his/her thumb
  626. under the counter
  627. under the gun
  628. under the same roof
  629. until the cows come home
  630. unvarnished truth
  631. up his sleeve
  632. up the creek
  633. up to his ears in trouble
  634. uphill battle
  635. upper crust
  636. upset the applecart

    V

  637. V for victory
  638. vain attempt
  639. vain effort
  640. vanquish the enemy
  641. vested interest

    W

  642. waiting for the other shoe to drop
  643. wakeup call
  644. warm welcome
  645. watching the clock
  646. watch your p's and q's
  647. watch your tongue
  648. water under the bridge
  649. weather the storm
  650. went belly up
  651. wet behind the ears
  652. weed them out
  653. week of Sundays
  654. what goes around comes around
  655. what you see is what you get
  656. when it rains, it pours
  657. when push comes to shove
  658. when the cat's away
  659. when the going gets tough, the tough get going
  660. white as a sheet
  661. whole ball of wax
  662. whole hog
  663. whole nine yards
  664. wild goose chase
  665. will wonders never cease?
  666. wisdom of the ages
  667. wolf at the door
  668. words fail me
  669. work like a dog
  670. world weary
  671. worst nightmare
  672. wrong side of the bed

    Y

  673. yanking your chain
  674. yappy as a dog
  675. years young
  676. you are what you eat
  677. you can run, but you can't hide
  678. you only live once
  679. young and foolish
  680. young and vibrant
  681. you're the boss

    For a more comprehensive list of cliches, see the Dictionary of Cliches, by James Rogers:

    Return from 500 Cliches to Avoid to the Home page






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