The Cliché Finder

I submitted an entry for the Fourth Annual Life Lessons Essay contest from Real Simple magazine, which is about the only mag I read. I like the format of it, the non-busy pages, the photography, the good ideas.

The rules for submission are, maximum of 1,500 words and you are given a topic to write about. As I was preparing to send off my entry, I reread the website and there is a section with helpful suggestions, and one is “don’t use clichés”. I did an earlier post on clichés. Not too unusual, many blogs have done the same thing. Clichés are a drag. I can really spot them now, and unless they are deliberate, or twisted in some way, I tend to quit reading when I find one.

It occurred to me that a really neat idea would be to develop a little webpage which a user could paste his text into and check that text against a database of common clichés. But wait! It has already been done. The Cliché Finder will check your writing and highlight offending phrases. Of course, who knows how current, or comprehensive that database is? How often is it updated? Anyway, it’s a good idea.

This is what happened when I clicked the button:

An  Unhandled Exception. As an ex-IT person, I can tell you this is not a good thing. This is sloppy programming. Obviously it didn’t like something about my text but instead of telling me what was wrong, it just croaked. I experimented to find out what the problem was. I put in one paragraph and it worked. I put in the next paragraph and it didn’t work.

The difference? It did not like the apostrophe in a contraction. Don’t, wouldn’t, can’t, didn’t, etc. Really? That seems pretty basic and is something the programmer should fix. Also, further down, I noticed it didn’t like quotes either. So the phrase “back home” (quotes included) caused it to blow up. There could be other things that offend the Cliché Finder too, but I didn’t spot them.

If this happens, I wonder how good the tool is. But it is a very good idea. Maybe some sort of interactive site where users could comment on what problems were found, and also add entries to the database as needed.

And guess what? My entry did not point out any clichés, when I removed all the apostrophes and quote marks. Cool.

9 thoughts on “The Cliché Finder

  1. From your former IT-person cohort: right-mouse on the page and View Source. The entire “database” of cliches is embedded in the html, in a javascript function which just inserts some tags to highlight the matching text. The apostrophes and quotes probably confuse the browser’s html parser. It’s lightweight and portable, I’ll give it that, but nothing fancy is going on here. Here is my question: how long until many of our geek-isms and idioms within the IT community fall to the level of cliche? Things like “This new movie re-boots the Batman franchise…” Yuck.

    • It’s not that long a list, is it? There are a lot missing from it. What about the modern cliches of the business world? “At the end of the day…” how many times did we hear that? And “That being said…” or it’s first cousin “Having said that…”. I always wanted to scream “Having said that, shut the f#%k up!!” But I do like your IT reboot example. I guess the Batman franchise does need to be rebooted, but more likely euthanized.

  2. Have you found anything yet – something that works! – to find cliches in a document? This program or whatever it is seemed to be the answer to my prayers (cliche on purpose). I’m a book editor and spend HOURS marking up cliches in manuscripts.

    • Jeannine, so far I haven’t found anything better than this. This is by no means complete. All the phrases it checks for are behind the scenes there, right on the page. To be really efficient, the phrases should be stored in a database somewhere so it can be added to as needed. So it won’t find many things that it should. So. sigh, I guess we still have to check for them manually. It’s a great idea though.

      • I think I found it. Try Cliche Cleaner!
        It’s a shareware program that marks up text when it finds cliches. I contacted the man who wrote the program to make sure he still supports it, and that it’s compatible with all versions of Windows. He responded right away and ensured me that it’s compatible with Windows. I’ve already used it twice, and love it — because I depise cliches.

      • Wow. So far I am impressed with this software. I downloaded the trial version but then found it’s only $12.95 anyway. The only limitation seems to be the size of the file you can check at one time. Thanks for finding this and commenting! Lynn

  3. Pingback: Two Good Tools for Writers « Lynn Schneider Books

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