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Monday, January 30, 2012

Cliches 2


Look at the cartoons above. Can you guess the "real meaning" of the two expressions? Answers are in the "Notes" below.


Here are five more clichés which are similes (using like or as).

a. As fresh as a daisy: To be beautiful, a daisy must be fresh. Daisies wilt quickly, so the only ones we might decorate with are always the fresh ones.

b. As good as gold: Everybody loves gold! But the expression means "well-behaved" and "kind-hearted," so it may be more about gold being pure, not valuable.

c. As mad as a hatter: According to some sources, mercury was used in the process of making hats. Mercury works as a kind of poison on the nerves, so hat makers often shook and appeared crazy. That's one possible explanation of where we got this cliché. (Think of the "Mad Hatter" in "Alice in Wonderland"!)

d. As old as the hills: This phrase is often used to describe old people. You know how old the hills are! So imagine…

e. As white as snow: New-fallen snow is often used as a simile for whiteness and purity. It was used by Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the translators of the King James Bible: Quite a pedigree, but a sure cause of its overuse.

Let's look at how to use these clichés, remembering that it's best to avoid them if possible, but to use them correctly when we do use them.

"With this new detergent, my clothes smell as fresh as a daisy." Actually, any common flower will do here ("as fresh as a rose," "as fresh as a lily.") We can also say, "as fresh as new-fallen snow" or "as fresh as springtime."

If we want to tell someone they are kind-hearted, we can say, "Friend, you're as good as gold." We can even go further and say, "You have a heart of gold." Because of its universal qualities, gold figures in lots of clichés, usually symbolizing either purity (as here) or value.

"My teacher says my English isn't very good." "Oh, don't listen to him; he's as mad as a hatter!" We also say "as mad as a March hare," and "as crazy as a loon." The hare (an animal similar to a rabbit) is said to be "mad" in March because that's his breeding season (but this is doubtful); the loon has a call like a maniacal laugh. These are all models of craziness. But "mad" also means angry, and here we find the easily understood "as mad as a hornet," "as mad as hell," and "as mad as (or madder than) a wet hen."

"The chairman of the board is old as the hills." We can also say "older than the hills." Another version is to say "as old as Methuselah," a proverbially old man in the Bible, said to have lived over 900 years. And my dad used to say "as old as Standard Oil"--meaning the product, not the company!

"Not only does the laundry smell fresh, but my sheets are as white as snow!" This is OK for talking about things; but if we talk about someone being pale (due to fright or illness) we might say, "as white as a ghost" or "as white as a sheet."

In the cartoons above, the two expressions are clichés. The "real meaning" of "throwing oneself at someone's feet" is putting oneself at their mercy, begging forgiveness, etc. The real meaning of "finding oneself somewhere" is to be surprised that one is there, not certain how one got there.

Here are a few tips to extend your vocabulary even further. You can add the following endings to almost any "as xxx as" expressions and get the same effect. However, these are really overused, so use them only if you can't think of anything else:

"as possible": "Our detergent will get your sheets as white as possible." Useful, but boring. (However, "as soon as possible" is a fixed phrase, and even has an acronym, ASAP, pronounced "Ay-sap.")

"as it gets," "as you can get," "as they get," etc.: "This cliché is as boring as it gets." "This is as good a mark as you can get." There is also a very slangy version of this, "as all get out." "After work yesterday, I was as tired as all get out." And with "they" we sometimes use "come": "That guy is as stupid as they come."

"as ever": "How's work?" "It's as busy as ever."

You can use these ending for virtually any "as xxx as" simile--but try to be more creative!


Look at each of the scenes below. What cliché above goes with each scene?

1. Your mother wasn't feeling well, but today she looks better. You ask her how she feels.
2. You ask how your father how long his grandfather lived.
3. You have a meeting with your child's teacher. You ask about his behavior.
4. Your friend is talking about his boss, who often gets up on his desk and shouts at his employees. You ask what's wrong with him.
5. The walls of your room have been freshly painted. Your friend asks how it looks.


1. Are there clichés in your language that have the same meaning?
2. Can you think of other English clichés that mean the same as the ones above?
3. Write some short scenes that end with the clichés above.


1. a "Much better, thanks! I feel (as) fresh as a daisy."
2. d "I'm not sure exactly, but he was (as) old as the hills."
3. b "No problem there; he's (as) good as gold."
4. c "Simple: he's (as) mad as a hatter!"
5. e "Crisp, clean, and (as) white as snow."
(Note: As you can see, the first "as" can be left out in each answer. Also, I have added a few words to make it more interesting; you can, too!)

This lesson is ©2012 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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