At the end of the day, everyone loves a good cliché, right?

Oct 21, 2012

It is what is, says Anne Curzan, professor of English at the University of Michigan.

She spoke with Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller about the clichés she has been hearing lately and how they came into being.

“'To throw something,' or 'to throw someone under the bus,' it looks like that is first cited reliably about 1991 and has taken off since then,” said Curzan.

She finds clichés to be much like fashion--usage depends on repeated exposure to the phrases and often they develop momentum all on their own.  

Curzan tracks the frequency of cliché usage through databases like the Corpus of Contemporary American Usage.

The phrase, “it is what it is,” is four times more popular today than it was in the early 2000s, while “at the end of the day” is five times more popular.

“You can imagine why people are getting tired of these expressions,” Curzan said.

Curzan broke down the distinction between an adage, an idiom, and a cliché.

An adage usually has some kind of moral in it, while an idiom is a phrase where the meaning of the phrase is bigger than the sum of its parts.

“So you take something like ‘kick the bucket,’ which has nothing to do with kicking or buckets, and has everything to do with dying,” said Curzan.

An idiom becomes cliché when overused.

And though we hold them dear, some clichés do die out.

Curzan cites “as a matter of fact,” which peaked in the 1930s and “be that as it may.”