New Cliches

When one is stumbling through the last chapters of a novel, hacking to the left and right (there’s my career summed up in one line), one becomes very aware of clichés. They are one of the things you hack. I realised I’d gradually built up a little mental list of them. Not just from prose, from everywhere. So here’s the first part of an ongoing Dictionary of the Modern Cliché. Feel free to suggest your own.

It scarce matters. Ah, but this villain is overconfident following a minor setback. The rebels, and/or Doctor Who, will soon be sending her still outrageously high expectations crashing to the ground. She talks this way because of the lasting impact the works of that great master of aquatic drama, Cod Shakespeare, have had upon the genre. What genre? Every genre. Except perhaps the Western. Because that would sound silly. This is why Russell Davies’ Doctor Who villains say things like ‘we rock’.

It is none of your concern. Alien for ‘bog off’. First used in Cod Shakespeare’s Henry the Fish.

Flanking. I don’t really know much about military things. But I’ve got this battle scene. Hmm. You men over there… flank the enemy! Give them a good flanking! Take them from the flank! If they try and flank you, well you just jolly well flank them… more! Outflank them, even! And watch your flank while you’re at it. There, that sounds like I know what I’m talking about.

Stands to reason. What old women in London say. Perhaps one of them really did once, until sometime around 1942. There is no longer an ‘it’ that does the standing. And sometimes there’s not even a proposition that needs to.

What part of ***** don’t you understand? It’d be good if someone answered this seriously next time. ‘Well, to be precise, your use of the word “danger”, because we don’t seem to be in any, and you seem to have enough spare time to use what was once someone else’s quite original wit in an annoyingly flippant and repetitive way.’ There must be children out there who use this in real life.

And finally, some sport ones:

Flatters to deceive. ‘We know it’s actually bad, despite many people thinking it looks quite good.’ A phrase the English have been using ever since William the Conqueror flattered to deceive at the Battle of Hastings.

To be fair. After footballer Eric Cantona went bonkers and kung fued a member of the audience during a match, every football pundit became an expert on the matter of fairness. And they still are. To the point where it’s become the new Game Of Two Halves. To be fair, Barry, being fair, to be fair to him, in all fairness…

A great servant to.... And this started when England wicket-keeper Alec Stewart retired. He was a great servant to English cricket. And now everyone was a great servant to their country’s everything.

All right, I’ll talk about something meaningful soon. Probably Rome and/or Battlestar Galactica related. But… novel, other cool stuff, no time! Cheerio.

14 Response to "New Cliches"

  • David Alexander Says:

    "Do not test me!" is a favorite. Basically, "Stop being an annoying little turd."

    "You've tried my patience for the last time." = "Unless I shoot you, you're going to continue being irritating."

    "You haven't got a chance." = "I'm not as confident as I'm attempting to sound."

    "I am not an evil man." Yes he is, and he loves it too.

    Inspired by 24: "I'm a patriot!" = "I'm a frigging psychotic toad!"

    "It's for the good of the country." = "I like to blow shit up."

    "Don't make me do this!" = "Please, torture gets me off."

    "There is no time!" = "I have an urgent need to shoot someone."

  • Salem MacGourley Says:

    Paul, two quick things:

    1) Just read Wisdom #4 - Brilliant. And you managed to name-check IMDB and Wikipedia. You just moved up to my third or fourth favorite writer. Cheers.

    2) If they ever make an Excalibur, Captain Britain, or Wisdom movie that has Dai Thomas in it, please insist that the bloke that played Rhys in Torchwood play him.

  • Loz Says:

    I've always liked 'deceptively casual' (... how do you know it's deception? could they not just be casual?) and 'hard and uncompromising' (uncompromising to what? what's so wrong with compromising?). I realised this when I went through one of my pieces and found they each cropped up around four times.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Thank you for those. Characters in Thunderbirds always used to say 'they haven't got a chance!' I'm pleased to be moving upwards in your league table, Salem. And yes. It's always the qualifying words that attach and stay around, Loz. To be deceptively casual, one has to be a bubbling mass of energy underneath. Like a Rutan.

  • Anonymous Says:

    I still want you to talk about 52 especially as we are in the final stretch (thank god).

    Mark P

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    What's not to like? No, don't answer that now, but over beer in Bristol.

  • Estrella Says:

    Mind if I borrow a piece of paper - not necessarily a T.V show, but how can you borrow a piece of paper ? Are you planning to magically erase the notes you've made at the end of the lecture, a la a magician ?

    Autorant- sorry

    Another cliche you see on cop shows- "We 're doing everything , in our power" - " The (maverick) lead detective is currently trying to find his kidnapped wife/kids/girlfriend whilst drinking himself into a stupor, several junior memebers of the squad are sleeping together (and one of them is likely to be te actual criminal who is leading everyone a merry dance whilst simultaneously looking stunningly attractive and psychopathic) and the junior genius officer, who has figured everything out, but has no common sense is about to go heading off after their psychopathic colleague on their own. Only to to be rescued at the last minute in a tense final sequence consisting of intercut clips

    *a closeup the lead detective sobering up enought to work out who the villain is,

    *a shot of the unconsicous idiot savant junior detective coming round *close up of their eyes as they come awake groggily*

    *shot of menancing blade being caressed by psycho villain

    *police cars

    *shot of shoes walking towards prone copper

    *more police cars and closeup of lead detective yelling "hurry up at his poor driver*

    *shot of wide eyed idiot savant lone ranger cop as he realises who villain is- big reval

    *villain asking making various silly remarks

    *more poilce cars

    *villain giving infodump for motives and revealing one nugget about past history, which the idiot savant cop suddenly uses in hitherto unknown display of intelligence to stall villain

    *cops running through building to find missing colleague-usually ex warehouse which seems to house a minotaur for all the labyrinthian tunnels displayed

    *cut back to villain who tells victim to shut up and then presses blade of knife/stiletto/small animal's teeth to neck of idiot savant cop only to have the arm raised

    *gratuitous shot of celebration in pub

    *cut back to lead detective sitting in office drinking again on own

    Gah - I am clearly angrier than I thought!

  • Anonymous Says:

    That discussion will require many beers. Almost finished writing a monthly column about what's not to like, with the barest glimmer (Booster) of some good stuff.

    We are getting in someone to write a counterpoint when issue 52 comes out, but he likes JSA so clearly he's mad :)

    Mark P

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Estella, you should write for television. And Mark: but, I like JSA too...

  • Anonymous Says:

    I used to like JSA - when it had Mike Parobeck on art :)

    If Robinson does his long proposed Society series then I dare say I'll like a JSA series again.

    Mark P

  • Estrella Says:

    Mr Cornell, you jest surely!

    I haven't the talet for starters, but that rant has been boiling for months (hence why I love Life on Mars so much)

    Can cliche be good if done in a certain manner , do you think ?

    Hope your novel continues apace,


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Mark, you know too much stuff. It gets in the way of your enjoyment of comics. Estrella, yes, I did jest, cliche can be fun, but only between consenting adults. I had another good novel week, thanks for asking, my agent is now asking after it. Should be done soon!

  • Michael Jeffrey Says:

    As long as you steer clear of The Mother Of All American Cliches:

    "You just don't get it, do you?"
    - anyone in any relationship

    can't believe that one hasn't died yet...but that's Hollywood for you.


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Excellent one.