Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cliché, that old cliché

Listening to Dr. Fowler's stirring aria about metaphors live and metaphors dead, I was moved to wonder about the origin of the word cliché. The Online Etymology Dictionary has this to say,
"1832, borrowing of a technical word from Fr. cliché, printer's jargon for 'stereotype,' supposedly echoic of mould dropping into molten metal, thus pp. of clicher 'to click.' Figurative extension is first attested 1888, following the course of stereotype."
In other words, cliché was a new metaphor in the late 19th century. While it is now dead, there must have been a substantial period during which cliché itself was a cliché.

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