|It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches by Orin Hargraves|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: This isn't a light-hearted look at the subject but a book which you should read if you want to improve your writing. It's rigorous, but not devoid of humour.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 248||Date: September 2014|
I don't usually start a review by telling you what a book isn't, but in this case it's important. This isn't a light-hearted look at the subject, such as we found in Cliches: Avoid Them Like the Plague by Nigel Fountain and which - laughing and blushing in equal measure - we shelved under 'trivia'. This book will be shelved under 'reference': it's a rigorous look at the problem with the clichés divided not by subject matter, but grammatically and with an introduction to each section which gives all the information you need to help in making judgements about your own writing. This isn't a book to amuse you, but to help you to improve your use of words.
I want to tell you something else, too. I can't think of another review which has made me so nervous. Lexicographer Orin Hargraves has contributed to dozens of dictionaries and he lectures in linguistics. He also says that he is no fan of the way that journalists - or bloggers - write. He blames both, with their lack of firm (or any) editing, for the virus-like spread of clichés. To further complicate matters Hargraves isn't completely against clichés - he's not above using them himself when he feels that they add to what he is saying, but his view is that they usually act only as fillers and add nothing to the sense.
Hargraves' advice is that if you find yourself reaching too readily for a phrase you should think about why you're using it, what it adds to the sentence and when the words or phrase were first used and in what context. He quotes hundreds of clichés but doesn't claim that the list is exhaustive (so, you can't just eliminate the ones he considers and rest easy) and to further complicate matters there are some clichés which he likes, or would use in certain circumstances. It's a minefield. Oh, I'm sorry - that's a cliché - and now I've produced another one by apologising or drawing attention to the cliché. When in a hole, stop digging, as they say... Oh, drat.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that the book was one man's view - albeit a well-informed view - about what he considered to be a cliché. I've decided to take the reasoning behind what he concludes and apply that to the way that I write: it never hurts to think more carefully about use of words. Did I enjoy the book? Yes, I did. As you might expect there's clarity to the writing and it's not without the occasional flash of humour. My only quibble is that I would have liked some background to the clichés - knowing where and how they were first used would be interesting and informative - but I suspect that it would have created a much larger book.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If you'd like to brush up on your English grammar then we can recommend I Used to Know That: English by Patrick Scrivenor.
You can read more book reviews or buy It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches by Orin Hargraves at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches by Orin Hargraves at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.