Clichés of clichés

When you want to avoid using a cliché, just do what millions do. Use two for the price of one. Maybe people will actually think you’re being brilliantly original.
We’ve all heard variations of this abbreviated anecdote: “Jim and Jane met at a party, got talking, left early together, and the rest is history.” Those last four words are a shortcut for saying, “and everyone knows what happened after that so there’s no point in going on and on about it.” But it’s been so overused that it’s a tiresome cliché, and so we’ve inserted an equally clichéd qualifier smack in the middle of it: “as they say.”
For example, maybe “the rest” of the previous anecdote might go something like this: “Jim and Jane got married but he cheated on her, they separated, got divorced, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
“As they say” is defined in as “A vague invocation of popular convention when introducing a phrase or expression, which may be accompanied by attribution to a source or locale in which the phrase or expression is used.” Curiously, this is the exact definition also found in, and that fact perfectly illustrates my topic – the overuse of a phrase for the intent of minimizing the overuse of another phrase; or, as they say, clichés of clichés.
Apparently, not everyone has heard or read the original four-word cliché. In a few years ago, someone asked about the expression “and the rest, as they say, is history”: “I’ve googled this to no end and I have found no original saying, ‘The rest is history.’ How can they say that [‘as they say’] if no one has said it? And who are these crazy they people anyway?”
It’s not clear why the questioner couldn’t find “The rest is history.” But his question unwittingly makes an amazing point: the new and expanded cliché now seems to be more of a cliché than the original cliché – if you’ll pardon an obvious oxymoron.
And anyway, reducing history to four words or seven words treats readers or listeners badly. We want the Paul Harvey version, the rest of the story. Jim and Jane seemed like a nice couple. What happened?


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