From wiki sources :

A cliche is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.

Consider (for example) a sentence framed by Shakespeare

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

which became very popular. Now-a-days, it may be overused or irritating and hence may be considered a cliche, but Shakespeare himself did not use it as a cliche.

What did he use it as ? What did he invent ? What is the term for the origin of a cliche ?

  • 2
    I don't believe there is going to be a word for "the state of a saying before it became hackneyed", but a word which means "a nice saying", which carries no connotations of overuse, is aphorism (or, sticking with the French of cliche, a bon mot). However, neither does that imply the saying * has since* or will become cliched. So perhaps such a saying starts off as a bon mot, matures into an aphorism, rises in popularity to become an adage, and ultimately falls from grace and becomes a cliche? an Wikipedia has an article which lists different kinds of sayings.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 19, 2015 at 17:59
  • 1
    Since there’s no way whatsoever of knowing what will and will not become a cliché, there’s really no common feature to all sayings-that-later-became-clichés. So I think the only real words for it would simply be phrase, saying, or expression. Apr 19, 2015 at 18:01
  • 1
    a pre-cliché ?
    – ermanen
    Apr 19, 2015 at 18:03
  • 3
    @ermanen - A preché.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 19, 2015 at 18:10
  • (A) DanBron , +1 , yes aphorism does not imply that something became a cliche. (B) JanusBahsJacquet , +1, when a great book is written, it will not be called a classic, but after decades, it will be called a classic. Similarly, when a nice phrase is invented by X, it may not be called Y, but a few decades later, it would have become a cliche and so we might say something like "X invented a Y". I am looking for words to express Y. (C) ermanen , +1 , for the nice suggestion. (D) HotLicks , +1 , for the nice variation.
    – Prem
    Apr 19, 2015 at 18:12

5 Answers 5



1.1 An original which has been imitated; a prototype:


1.1 The first, original, or typical form of something; an archetype:


  • +1 for original. * Cliché*: A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought: Apr 19, 2015 at 20:16
  • +1 for prototype. Check out the etymology of cliche!
    – Ed Miller
    Apr 19, 2015 at 20:23
  • @ScotM , +1 , I like that. Phrases like this will be useful to convey the point : "Shakespeare invented the Archetype (or Prototype) of the Rose cliche".
    – Prem
    Apr 20, 2015 at 10:35
  • 1
    I cringe at the thought of that fine expression being labeled a cliche, but the fact that it is mindlessly employed and misapplied by modern speakers makes it inevitable :-)
    – ScotM
    Apr 20, 2015 at 13:47

In speech or writing, a future cliché begins as a turn of phrase, which Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) defines as

a fashioning of language or arrangement of words : manner of expression

  • 1
    True, but there are both musical and visual clichés, and neither works well with "turn of phrase". Apr 19, 2015 at 18:26

The best I can think of is first use or original use. After all, when an "expression, idea, or element of an artistic work" is first used, it cannot be a cliché. It only gains the description when it becomes so popular as to be overused.


With regard to the question about how cliches are first created, the first thing that popped into my head when I read this question was "Coin a phrase". This article even cites The Bard of Avon in several places. I fully expected someone else had already answered with it.

This paragraph seems to capture the idea of newly created phrases or words nicely:

From there, the verb “to coin” started to refer to anything that was made into something new. By the sixteenth century, coining new words became quite popular, though it wasn’t always considered a positive, innovative thing. In 1589, George Puttenham wrote in The Arte of English Poesie: “Young schollers not halfe well studied… will seeme to coigne fine wordes out of the Latin.”

Regarding the word cliché:

Printing presses gave us the word “cliché,” which comes from the French word cliquer, which referred to the clicking sound made by the stamps on the metal typefaces during printing. How did this come to mean “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought?” Printer’s used “cliché” as jargon for “stereotype block.” From there, the evolution of the meaning of the word followed closely with “stereotype,” the latter of which was originally a “method of printing from a plate,” from the French “stéréotype” in the eighteenth century. By the mid-nineteenth century, this had come to mean “image perpetuated without change.” This further morphed by the early twentieth century to mean as it does today.


The classic exemplar can become trite when familiarity breeds contempt:



1 Judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind:



A person or thing serving as a typical example or appropriate model:


An ideal form captures an archetypical sentiment, but the external paradigm can wear thin until it ceases to capture the imagination. I dare say that the fine expression posited as an example has not reached this sorry state.

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