One of my favorite things is etymology. I’m fascinated by the history of words and how it adds dimensions of meaning to the definition.
The etymology of one word I find particularly fascinating: cliché. It signified the sound printmakers heard when they poured molten metal into a template for the printing press. I get it: The French verb for “to click” is clicher. Typesetters would use the template for that particular font or image until it was worn out …at which point they used the term “stereotype.” Stereo, from the Greek meaning “solid “and “type” refers to the font, but also to a category. A worn-out phrase on a template is a cliché. A solid, fixed image that is perpetuated — printed — without change is a stereotype. Call me a nerd, but I find this remarkable.
When writing, especially in profiles, clichés indicate that someone couldn’t think of anything better to say. They’re cheap and, like stereotypes, unfair. I’ll be brutally honest here: although I’ve defended the occasional typo in a profile, I can’t abide cliches. I almost never browse a person’s page if I see one in the thumbnail. Here are some cliches that make me pass over a profile:
1. “I’m looking for a woman who likes a night out on the town as much as a night in watching movies.”
I just don’t get it. I never really saw those two things as diametrically opposed. Let’s face it: If you’re not outside, you’re inside. That’s like saying, “I’m really into men/women who like standing up just as much as they like sitting down.” What’s the point? People like to go out. They also like to stay in. Don’t state the obvious.
2. “I’m looking for my partner in crime.”
Really? A criminal record, huh? What appeal! Seriously, the “Bonnie and Clyde” romanticism is outdated and has to go. It no longer indicates a mischievous streak and perhaps a slightly rebellious nature. It only indicates that you think Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were hot, which they certainly were.
Let it go already.
3. “I work hard and play hard.”
Save the posturing for your job and your playground. If by ‘work hard’ you mean you’re ambitious and focused on your career, that’s admirable. If by ‘play hard’ you mean you have many active hobbies, are into fitness or sports or are adventuresome, that’s also very attractive. Can’t you ‘write hard’ and put a little effort into your profile?
4. “I’m shy at first but really open up when you get to know me.”
Cliché , meet the paraphrase. What are you saying: You’re cautious? Good idea. You want to spend a lot of time having someone get to know you? Excellent, but who doesn’t? You’re an introvert by nature? Now we’re getting somewhere!
Describe a little more about your internal world. If you haven’t done so, take the temperament test and use some of the phrases that describe you best.
If “I’m shy at first” means none of those things, think about what you’re really saying. You’re anti-social? Well, this is a dating website. I think that much is obvious.
5. “Life is short.”
Are you talking about your own particular life expectancy? Because most people here want someone who’s going to stay alive for a while. Otherwise, is this really news? Make it meaningful and tell me what experience has led you to appreciate the fleeting nature of life.
6. “I love my amazing friends/family/pets/job/life.”
We get it. You’re well-adjusted. You have a great fill-in-the-blank-here. But come on, are you really amazed on a regular basis? Amazing, like so many other words, is so worn out it’s become the opposite of amazing.
7. “I’m close to my family.”
Yeah. That’s from genetics or upbringing.
Tell me what you do together or how these bonds inform your personality or influence your spirituality.
8. “What you see is what you get.”
No, it isn’t. We are all complex, multi-faceted, nuanced human beings. God made us that way. If you’re trying to say something else, say it.
Let’s think about “WYSIWYG” could mean.
- You’re brutally honest? You should state it; lots of people appreciate that.
- You have a simplistic view of various societal issues? Fine; it’s good to know yourself.
- You don’t hide your flaws? Excellent! None of us should.
- You’re shallow? You might be, especially if “WYSIWYG” is your only world view.
- You just might be naive, and that’s perfectly OK.
But the point is, it’s a grossly inaccurate depiction to begin with.
Here’s the other, far more dangerous thing about “WYSIWYG”: This isn’t real life, it’s the World Wide Web We Weave. Add the power of imagination, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Best to avoid disasters, don’t you think?
9. “My philosophy is …” followed by another inane cliche having nothing to do with philos (Greek for “loving”) + sophia (Greek for “wisdom”).
10. “Honesty (or any other admirable human quality) is really important to me.”
11. “I’m looking for that special someone.”
This is a numbers game. Given the sheer volume of people all looking for “that special someone”, there better be a lot of “special someones” out there. Otherwise, everyone is looking for the same “special someone.” It’s obvious that everyone is special in their own way. But “that special someone” doesn’t narrow it down to anything. It’s the most non-specific cliche. It’s a cheap effort to convey your desire to click with someone while not limiting your search to a set list of criteria.
But I know for sure I’ll only click to the next profile if I see that someone is looking for what everyone else is looking for. It’s nothing special.
12. “I want someone who is just as comfortable in a little black dress as in jeans and a T-shirt.”
This is similar to No. 1 in that these two items are not polar opposites. So what does it mean? You are (or want to be with) someone who is adaptable to lots of situations and has outfits to coincide with them? So what?
I think there are two implications here:
- One, that there is some inkling of financial stability. She can afford the swanky LBD and is ready for any swanky event in some swanky locale that he will whisk her away to. He, meanwhile, wants to see her looking swanky while he proudly foots the bill. Cue the evening of romance novels!
- Two, in the interim, she can rock some jeans and a T-shirt — looking gorgeous, of course. Suddenly, she’s a whole plethora of types: the girl next door, one of the guys, the natural beauty, the one who’s willing to rough it; or sometimes the glamazon in stiletto heels. This is the woman of men’s dreams.
Notice anything? These aren’t just types, these are stereotypes. The well-worn cliché of the LBD/jeans points to the worn-out, much-perpetuated image of the very thing the CatholicMatch ladies (also known as “CM Pinkies”) often complain about in the forums: the mythical, stereotypical Catholic Barbie. The mythos of the LBD is taking over our lives — don’t believe the hype, people!
So my message to all the fine men and women on CatholicMatch: Take the time to examine your attachment to clichés. They’re blatantly displayed on your profiles for everyone to see, whether you knew it or not. And now that you know it, don’t you want to show yourself as the unique individual you are, rather than the stereotypical online dater?