It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity
July 29, 2009
A show of hands from everyone who is thoroughly roasted this week? Thanks, you can all put your hands back in the buckets of ice now.
In honor of my broken air conditioner, today’s post will give a bit of background on a commonly used phrase: “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”
The phrase actually has little to do with heat. Its common use means, “I’m not bothered by the obvious problem, but by a related one.” So in my case I might say, “It’s not the heat, it’s the broken air conditioner.”
Since weather is always an easy topic of conversation, the phrase has been used often throughout history — enough to be included in my good ole Dictionary of Cliches. But one of the earliest public uses of the phrase was in Langdon Mitchell’s 1906 play The New York Idea, which has little to do with weather and more to do with marriage and divorce. Go figure.
While a cliche can be fun here and there, it’s important to try and spot them when they come up repeatedly in your writing. The biggest reason for this is that using a cliche means you’re using someone else’s words — it’s likely that you could come up with a more unique, or even more clever, way to get your point across.
The more I think about this the more I realize that cliches are nearly impossible to avoid. And sometimes they’re pretty fun. After all, I am the owner of an entire dictionary of them. But too many of them can turn a piece to fluff. To give you an idea, here’s a link to a few written pieces that are nearly entirely composed of cliches. They’re good for a chuckle, but if you really want to make a point or communicate a clear message, they’re probably not the way to go.
What I would really love to do someday is coin a phrase (sorry! cliche!) that is so commonly used that it becomes a cliche after I die. How’s that for a dying wish?
While we’re at it, what are your favorite/love-to-hate cliches? Or your favorite ways to describe a crazy-hot day such as this one?