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Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cliches and how they evolve

Cliches have a significant role in our lives by giving us some respectability when we lack anything substantial to say. Two decades back, my parents and teachers would use an enormous amount of clichés upon me. Most of them would be based on kindergarten morality and wisdom. Some of the most common ones would be: Early bird catches the worm; Fortune favors the brave; blah blah…

As one grows older, such kindergarten wisdom fades away for most. They are replaced by the perennial favorites like “Every religion teaches the same truth” and “All politicians are corrupt”. There are the ones like Moore’s law and Pareto principle that start seeping in during college days. Additionally, there are the clichéd phrases and word combinations that are so popular in corporate world. Phrases and words like Synergies and Core Competency serve more as conjunction than as nouns, helping us fill in sentences when we have nothing better to say. When an Indian goes abroad, she has to frequently tell the usual cliches, Paneer is cottage cheese and Ghee is clarified butter. And as a consultant, whenever I hear a client say, We want actionable and implementable recommendations, I see in her face my mother telling me, Make hay while the sun shines.

All the same, many novel clichés have gradually emerged over the last few years in India and are particularly used by the middle class executive segment. Some of the favorites are:

: I hate Gandhi

: I think George Bush is the most stupid person

: Only 15 percent of every rupee meant for the poor ever reached the poor

: Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life

: Cricket is not a sport but a religion

: Look how the communists are courting business in West Bengal

: Your performance was mind-blowing, fantabulous!!!!

: I have a personality that mixes western modernism with Indian values (marriage market superhit)


Life becomes simple with clichés and people do keep coming up with newer ones, sometimes with great consequences for the one who coins it. Look at how Chris Andersen benefited from his Long Tail or how Raj Thackeray leveraged upon his cliches against North Indians. But many times, they fail to get the speaker any respect even when he is saying something rather profound. One needs to only look at India’s finance minister Chidambaram’s cliché, High inflation is due to global economic situation.

2 comments:

lekhni said...

Isn't the Hinduism part just a statement of fact, not a cliché? Sanatana Dharma is not a religion, it is a way of life..

Anonymous said...

@Lekhni;
yes, Sanatan Dharma (religion) is a way of life; so are christianity, islam, and the new age religions that crop up from Esalen