On the Lighter Side

Things People Say: Tiresome Cliche Edition

Platitudes are irritating as a general rule, but some are just so bad, they deserve their own feature. Here’s a sampling of the best. I mean, the worst.

1. “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence/You always want whatever you can’t have.” Sorry, but no. This is not only overly simplistic; it’s inaccurate. If I want something, I desire it based on its perceived benefit to me, not on its relative scarcity. I can think of many, many things I don’t have that I also don’t want: Warts. Head lice. Food allergies. A pet tarantula. Turtleneck sweaters. Vermilion wallpaper. A mustache. Eyebrow piercings. A lifetime pass to the opera…

2. “There’s no such thing as a coincidence.” A coincidence is simply when two things happen at the same time. The people who are fond of this saying must know this (I hope). What they probably mean is, “There’s no such thing as a coincidence devoid of significance or divine purpose.” Even this clarification doesn’t solve everything, though, because then you’ve opened up the gallon-sized can of worms labeled Determinism — basically, whether or not God foreordains all the events of our lives.

3. “Is your glass half full or half empty?” This isn’t exactly the right question. No glass is “half empty.” Much like saying a dimly lit room is “half dark”, you can’t define something in the negative, by what it lacks. Not to mention that the half-full/half-empty dichotomy is an annoying (and ill-fated) attempt to pigeonhole others, based on caricatures like Pollyanna and Eeyore.

4. “It could be worse.” Technically, hell is the only place in the universe where things couldn’t possibly be any worse. So in terms of helpfulness and relevance, this one ranks right up there with statements like “Water is wet.” The mere fact that it’s true doesn’t mean it adds to the conversation in any meaningful way.

5. “Money can’t buy happiness.” (Well, I can’t say that poverty does much for happiness, either!) This statement is technically true, if you’re thinking of Happiness like something you find in a labeled container on a store shelf. But who actually thinks of happiness this way? No one, and that’s why this saying rings so hollow.

The glaringly obvious truth is that money can — and indeed, is the only thing that will — buy things that contribute to happiness, such as a house that we can relax and rest in, food that affords us leisure and social time as well as nourishment, plane tickets to go on vacation or visit loved ones, and medical bills to eradicate or alleviate health issues.

6. “It is what it is.” This is usually a cop-out, an excuse not to make a change that desperately needs to be made. It’s better to ask, “Is this what it could be, or should be?” Then act accordingly.

7. “This too shall pass/It’s temporary.” Another cop-out, often said to people who are exhausted, worn out by unfortunate circumstances or even just the general grind of life. Think new moms with a colicky infant, a chronic illness sufferer, or an under-employed blue collar worker or college student living hand to mouth. In almost every case, the innocent victim of this cliche is someone who could really benefit from a friend coming to their aid with practical help or wise advice. Thankfully, “this too shall pass” also applies to the annoying people who would rather talk at you than try to help.

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