Last night an old friend asked me why I am going on a mission. When I gave him my reason, he said, "I don't believe you. That answer is too canned. In all the years I've known you, you've never said anything canned and meant it." I was pretty upset because my cliche answer was also honest. After a long conversation that was frustrating and emotional for me, I gave essentially the same answer I had started with but I said it in the form of a personal story. My friend seemed more satisfied, but I was confused because all I had done was restate my "canned" answer. What was different?
One of the first lessons I learned in my college writing classes was that every cliche was once original and meaningful, but overuse has robbed them of significance. The way for a writer to freshen a cliche is play on its original meaning, which requires you to know the context of its first use. Essentially, phrases are meaningless cliches when we forget the stories behind them. I keep that in mind when I write but apparently not when I speak.