Thursday, September 1, 2011

That's so cliche(d)!

Commenting on my "Cake or death?" post, Julia asked about my use of "so cliched":
I once used the word "cliched" in a college term paper. My prof drew a big red line through it and wrote "no such word!" next to it. ... Now it jumps off the page at me when someone uses it as you did in your post. Has the OED accepted it in the staggeringly long span I've been out of college? 
It has, Julia -- not that you need the OED's approval to use a word (and to call your prof arrogant and clueless). In 1989, just a few years after your college days, the Second Edition included the the adjective use of "cliched," citing a 1928 book by Alec Waugh (brother of Evelyn): "There is no adjective but the cliché'd deafening that can fittingly describe the tornado of noise that had welcomed the recitation."

I don't know that anyone other than your teacher ever objected to cliched. But the adjective has stirred up some controversy in its more recent, Frenchy form: "That's so cliche!" I wrote about the innovation in 2003, after a  Globe reader complained about it; at the time, I said that
adjectival cliche is moving up fast. In expressions where there's a clear choice between cliche and cliched, the adjective is cliche about half the time. In most of those cases, it sneaks in by way of quotations - "It sounds cliche, but he really believed it'' (Miami Herald), or "I was brought up to love everybody, as cliche as that may sound'' (People magazine).* But it's not all spoken-word sloppiness: In the earliest citation I could find, a 1979 Washington Post review of the miniseries "Studs Lonigan,'' the writer himself says of father-son conflict, "It is an old cycle, so cliche it hurts.''
The OED was on to adjectival cliche in 1989, too, quoting the BBC's weekly, The Listener, from 1959: "The kind of fond reminiscence which comes rather too near the cliché view of human situations."

I have no idea what data I was relying on in my 2003 frequency estimate, but here's what Google Ngram Viewer has to say about so cliche vs. so cliched:

By now, I think, "so cliche" seems normal to a lot of younger speakers and writers. And I have a soft spot for it myself, as I confessed in that 2003 column, because it's such a natural choice: 
Though cliche came into English as a noun, it retains its French form -- and that form is a past participle, perfectly happy to be used as an adjective. English is full of such French words, some used as nouns (divorcee, souffle, negligee), others as adjectives (passe, flambe).
Even a stickler, it seems to me, might find it in his or her heart to approve so cliche

* There's no telling whether the source actually said "cliched" or "cliche," of course, but these instances show that the reporter and editor(s) all accepted so cliche as OK.


djw said...

As one might approve just about any noun that gets used meaningfully as a verb, right? Like book learning or blog post or school days or elephant soup?

Kay L. Davies said...

I've heard and read it used as an adjective (with or without the d) so often that "so cliche" is becoming cliche itself. LOL
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Anonymous said...

To me it sounds wrong either way, or rather if I use it either way I know it will sound wrong to some people: "that's so clichéd" sounds wrong because in French cliché is already a participle, and "that's so cliché" sounds like a showoff-y usage that will go over some people's heads. (Then there's "sautéd" ...)

Jonathon said...

I'll admit to not liking cliched, but that's probably the result of taking a few years of French. In French cliche is already a participial adjective, so the d is unnecessary.

But, of course, we don't speak French, and it's common enough in English to take nouns (because that's what cliche originally was) and turn them into participial adjectives by adding -(e)d. So I should probably get over it.

Stan said...

I have no objection to either form, with or without the accent.

A fussy college professor declaring that words he doesn't like aren't words? That's clichéd.

Marc Leavitt said...

I really just don't like cliche as an adjective(without the accent); the trend has always been to add the -ed, but language isn't logical. We say "the hoi poloi," when in fact, the phrase in Classical Greek already contains the article (hoi). I guess I'll get used to cliche. What I like even less is the trend toward clipping, as in "Fail" and "Easton Ave." I'm not a peevologist, but I do have to count to ten when I see the latter.

Anonymous said...

"fail" seems like a joke of the digital age, originally meant to evoke an error message from a machine.

In contrast, "Easton Ave" may not be very recent. (I assume you mean that you dislike the use of the abbreviation "Ave." for "Avenue" in speaking.) I wonder how long Bostonians have been saying Mass Ave. Not to mention Dot Ave.

John Lawler said...

The form cliched or clichéd is a standard past participle use meaning "provided with clichés". It's the sort of thing that will re-occur to each generation and keep the controversy going.

One quite regular variety of verbed nouns in English is the Provisional, like the verbs to shingle, to seed, to bell, to asterisk, to tar, to feather, as in a newly-shingled house, a late-seeded field, an unbelled cat, three asterisked sentences, etc.

A provisional verbing of [Noun] makes an obligatorily transitive verb that means "to provide [Direct Object] with [Noun]". This is often extended to mean "to provide [Direct Object] with a lot of [Noun]" or, in the case of a pejorative [Noun], as here, "... with way too much [Noun]".

But, if cliché has become a mass adjective that can apply to a cliché-studded document or utterance, or even a new fashion collection, then it'll compete with the participial usage, and will sound like clipping to those who have discovered the participial usage. Parsing wars, anyone?

Mo said...

"the cliché view of human situations" seems an uncertain citation?

It could just as easily be a noun-as-adjective modifier there: cf "the government view of human situations" rather than "governmental".

Anonymous said...

Your footnote is puzzling.
> * There's no telling whether the source actually said "cliched" or "cliche," of course, but these instances show that the reporter and editor(s) all accepted so cliche as OK.

Surely there are archives for both sources: Miami Herald and People magazine?

Jan said...

Cord Wainer: I mean that we don't know for sure whether the quoted sources said "cliche" or "cliched," since the listener transcribing the quotes might simply write down the version s/he expected to hear.