Lee Pierce, associate professor of rhetoric at the State University of New York at Geneseo, cares a lot about the language people use to express themselves. Today, she shares her One Big Tip about how to change your language and way of thinking to effectively communicate for a variety of situations.
A Cliche State of Mind
During Lee’s career as a rhetoric instructor and professor, she has identified a prominent problem for those who are trying to hone their rhetoric skills and become better communicators. While there are so many options to express oneself in the English language, people keep pulling overused phrases from “the same tiny little bucket.”
To combat this problem, her One Big Tip is to avoid using clichés, which she defines as “a convenient way to express yourself,” such as the phrase “you only live once”. Though clichés may represent the way we feel about a situation and give us some easy words to use when we feel like we have none, the words can lose their value and, according to Lee, their use isn’t “necessarily always true nor helpful, nor does it expand our way of thinking about things.”
Taking the easy route and using clichés extends further than just speech. Lee even considers actions and situations cliché when “you're just doing something the same old way because it seems safe and predictable.”
Repurposing Your Rhetorical Containers
Overcoming clichés is not always easy to do, but Lee has some tools to help change your way of thinking. She mentions the idea of putting “containers around things,” which embodies the language or structure you’re using to express an idea. In general, these containers are ways of thinking that can be revealed in the language you use to express an idea, the website format you use to promote a service, and also in how people express their political views, whatever they may be. Lee states that “it's shocking how much people cling to ways of thinking,” and notes that this can be a very difficult thing for a person to change.
This process of changing the “container” can sometimes mean a change of approach or even the use of tropes such as hyperbole. She gives an example of what she calls “irreverent advertising” which is used by various travel companies and even Old Spice. This approach causes the commercial to not make sense with the product being advertised, but it also puts a new spin on what might otherwise be a boring commercial and gets people’s attention.
While this format is now starting to fall into the cliché and overused category, there will always be a need for a new and creative way of thinking. For Lee, “letting go of the cliches is the first step to creativity” which allows for the growth that many desire.