Where it's coming from will be flavour of the month

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The Independent Online
WHO said that cliches are the necessary lubrication of conversation? And that without them we could hardly begin to communicate with each other? It was Dr Jason Truism, actually, our resident cliche expert. He may not have been the first to say it, but he certainly said it. He says it all the time, in fact. That's because cliches are his business. Cliches are where he is coming from.

And here's another thing Dr Jason Truism said only yesterday: 'Hey, can I do another Cliche Clinic for you? You know, dealing with readers' inquiries about colloquial coinage?'

Great idea, Doc. All yours.

Doc, why do people say, 'That's where I'm coming from'? In what sense are you coming from cliches, as it said just now? And if you are coming from cliches, where are you going to? And will there be any good places to have a picnic en route?

Doc Truism writes: Motion, and ideas of motion, are a very fruitful source of cliches. Remember when we said that people were 'far out'? Remember when we used to say that 'This is where it's at'? You see, it's all about notions of movement and position and location and speed . . . There used to be a cliched term of praise, 'out of sight'. Same thing as 'far out'. That's where I'm coming from.

That's all very well, but you still haven't told us what 'That's where I'm coming from' actually means.

That's my bag.


We used to say, 'That's my bag'. Also, 'That's where I'm at', and 'That's my scene'. Now we say, 'That's where I'm coming from'. They are all meaningless and very significant. All cliches get worn out and replaced by other cliches. That's the name of the game. That's the way it is. That's the way the cookie crumbles. That's . . .

OK, OK, OK. I get your point. Now, have you got any good fresh sightings from your recent scanning of the celestial cliche Milky Way?

Mmm, like it. It's almost original. Don't get many cliches from the world of astronomy.

Do many cliches come from the world of science and technology?

Oh, yes. Clones, and black holes, and big bangs, and mutants, and all that. But technology has always produced cliches. For instance, you might be surprised that the concept of a terrorist blowing himself up with his own bomb or booby trap has not become an image in our language. But do you know why it hasn't?

No, I'm afraid I don't.

Because we already have 'hoist with his own petard', which means exactly the same thing. A petard was a kind of mine put close under a wall or castle to blow it up, which often blew up in the face of the operative.

But no one knows any of that. It's a meaningless cliche.

Cliches don't have to mean anything. They just have to be.

Mmm. Any other recent cliches to which you would like to draw the attention of the jury?

Certainly. 'Icon' is one. It used to mean a picture of Jesus Christ, or of his mother. Then it came to mean a symbol on a computer screen. Now it just means a picture of anything. I have even heard it used to replace 'logo', meaning the symbol on corporate letter headings. The stylised picture of a man or a woman on a lavatory door can be styled an icon. It says something about our epoch that the word icon used to mean a picture of the son of God, but now it means a drawing of a man on a lavatory door.

Any other new sightings?

Do you mean 'flavour of the month'?

Yes, that is exactly what I meant. Sorry.

Formulaic. Paradigm. Palimpsest. Sourced. Stand-off . . .

Excuse me, but I thought that 'stand-off' was a man who got the ball when the scrum-half didn't want it any more.

It used to be. Now it means born-again Christians and policemen shooting each other in Waco, Texas. Where were we? Paradigm. Palimpsest. Driven . . .


This is the cliche suffix of the year. Everything is customer- driven, reader-driven, profit- driven . . . Curiously enough, the opposite is also used: customer- led, reader-led, profit-led . . .

And what does it all mean?

(Dr Jason Truism will hopefully be back soon.)