From cliché to flipché​

cliches to flipches

I’m not going to tell you to avoid clichés “like the plague”. There are 101 blog posts telling you that already. It’s just worth remembering that a cliché was once an original thought, one expressed with such clear, concise and compelling words it gave a thousand copycats a handy short cut to instant communication.

Clichés are clichés because they began life as a skilful telegraphing of a thought with just the right words to make it sing; and just the right edits to make it swing. It is these very skills that make a poet a poet (and a cliché a cliché).

Now for the fun part — the breathing of new life into an old cliché by flipping it on its head. Films and all types of writing have done it enough times, so there’s nothing new about the 360 flip. Except there’s been no word to label the thing. That is until now: flipché (verb and noun: the flip of the cliché).

I googled the word and all it gave me was a band called Da Flipche. Then I asked a poet with a PhD in Writing & Literature, but she doesn’t think there is a word for flipping the cliché and so declared in a poetry class of nine, “You’ve just created a new word!” Cool for us all.

Meanwhile, here are eleven examples of clichés cleverly flipped into fresh, new meanings and surprising takes on the same-old-same. Enjoy the read.

Leave no cliché unturned

For obvious (thematic) reasons, “Leave no stone unturned” is the perfect cliché to start this list. Years ago, I flipped this one into a tag-line for a quality newspaper priding itself on in-depth, investigative journalism — No Story Unturned.

Great minds like a think

This one’s by the creatives who do the ads for The Economist. By flipping “great minds think alike”, the positioning was perfectly pitched to their target audience: professionals who read The Economist to form an opinion based on knowledge, insight and the verifiable facts.

Think small

This is an all time classic flip of “think big” by Julian Koenig & Helmut Krone of Doyle Dane & Bernbach. They were advertising the VW Bug to an America obsessed with huge space invaders like Cadillacs. Instead, the VW Bug equals very easy to park, very economic to drive and very little to go wrong. 

A china shop in a bull

“Bull in a china shop” got a very clever 360 degrees for the 2012 Cadillac CTS-V coupe. The flip perfectly summed up the meticulous attention to interior detail while under the hood lived a fearsome beast of an engine.

A candy store in a kid

Anybody with children knows what happens when kids have too many lollies or too much fizzy drink — they bounce off the walls and never land in bed asleep. The kid might start off in a candy store, but too much of a sweet thing and the candy store is in the kid.

Add life to your years

If you prefer quality of life (“add life to your years”) over quantity of life (“add years to your life”), this is your flipché. I saw this headline on a physiotherapy poster in rehab where my dad was recovering from a nasty fall. He was 90 and all he wanted was to be able to walk again. 

A hard man is good to find

The full quote is, “It’s hard to find a good man, but it’s good to find a hard man”. The Oxford Essential Quotations attributes this statement to actress and screenwriter, Mae West (1892 – 1980). While it can’t be a verifiable attribution, it’s a flipché that would fit perfectly into her lexicon of love.

Feed two birds with one seed

This one I coined a few years ago and still use it in my copywriting and editing classes today. That’s because (a) it was a neat way to talk efficiency and economy and (b) I don’t like killing as an attitude (as expressed “kill two birds with one stone”). 

Better date than never

What a great title for a reality dating show! Though it can be uncomfortable, scary, disappointing and heartbreaking, nobody would miss out on this human ritual. It can promise to be exciting, heart-warming and life-altering too. And the rhyme “date” and “late” instantly “feeds two birds with one seed”.

Vanish into thick air

A copy editor suggested this flipché to their writer who used “vanish into thin air” in the sentence. It was not only a refreshing take but a practical one as the scene was set in fog so thick you couldn’t see pass your nose.

Looking like a million dollars tax free

Here’s another way to flipché the cliché. Just add wit. It may not do the 360, but it does exactly what a  flipché is supposed to do — breathe life back into a dead horse. 

“Fight to live another day”, “money is a necessary sequel”, “a dog isn’t a man’s best friend” (for CAT workwear), “it’s only going to get worse before it gets worse” (sorry for ending on a statement of hopelessness) … the flipchés are many and will keep on coming now that you’ve read this. In the craft of copywriting and all it’s writerly cousins, we are looking for a fresh take on things. And if you can’t originate your own, flipchéing another’s can be a fabulously refreshing act in itself. 

Meanwhile, my online copywriting course’s latest timetable is up and running and ready to take your booking now. It’s still the one copywriting course that makes you great at writing for all types of media.

Originally posted 2024-03-11 09:47:43.

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