Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Cliché and Idiom

Cliché vs Idiom

Clichés and idioms are both phrases used in our everyday language.

A cliché is a common phrase or an expression which has been used so many times since it first originated that with the changing times and its overuse, it has lost its true meaning. Overuse makes it boring too; for example, “easy as pie” or “a piece of cake.” It means very easy, not difficult at all. Anybody who has knowledge of the English language can understand the meaning.
Some clichés are literal and some figurative. Some clichés are a thought which are very true; some are thoughts or phrases which are stereotypes; some clichés are facts, and some may not be true. Whatever type they might be, had they been used sparingly, they would still be interesting as they were inspired by experiences of everyday life.

Figurative clichés

The clichés which do not have literal meaning, if translated in any other language, they will not make any sense at all. For example, “it’s raining cats and dogs.” We know it means raining heavily. Imagine a person who doesn’t speak English and tries to translate it literally; he wouldn’t ever venture out in the rain again.

Literal Clichés

Clichés which can be translated literally, for example: “All’s well that ends well.” It means when the end is well, it does not matter if something went wrong in between. It means exactly what is written.

Idioms are phrases which are always figurative; they cannot be literally understood and are unique to every culture and language. For example, “getting cold feet,” it means to feel scared of something. “He got cold feet on his wedding day.” If you try to translate it literally, it will hardly mean what is supposed to be expressed. Some idioms are considered figurative clichés by many. The differentiating factor is their use or overuse.
Idioms are considered to be transparent and opaque. Idioms need to be learned, and people learning English need to build a vocabulary of idioms.

Opaque idioms

Opaque idioms are idioms whose literal meaning is not at all related to the real expression. They cannot be translated to mean what a person wants to express. For example, “to smell a rat,” means something is wrong and one is convinced about it. This idiom cannot be taken literally by any means.

Transparent Idiom

These idioms can be translated a little bit and do make some connection to the expression. For example, “laying the cards on the table,” means to disclose something. The expression does connect to the action. When cards are played, you lay the cards on the table to show them thus disclosing what you have.


1.Clichés are phrases which have been overused and have become very common and boring. Idioms are phrases which are not so overused, and a vocabulary needs to be built to learn to use them.
2.Clichés are figurative as well as literal; idioms are transparent and opaque.
Some idioms can be figurative clichés.
3.Using idioms is considered a sign of good writing; using clichés in writing is considered poor writing.

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  1. Idioms are most certainly not a sign of good writing. They are rather a sign of lazy writing.

  2. Everything we hear is an opinion, not fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
    -Marcus Aurelius

  3. Many idioms that may not be considered clichés are, in fact, overused.
    My opinion … most idioms are overused and regarding them as clichés is a no more than a matter of opinion … there does NOT appear to be an OBJECTIVE method to decide when an idiom becomes a cliché.
    Since writing is designed to provide reliable communication, if a cliché does, in fact, accurate represent an idea, then why should it be considered poor writing? I’ve not seen anything, even from seasoned professionals, that can decide the status of an idiom becoming a cliché.

  4. I agree. Idioms or cliches express a feeling so perfectly in the fewest possible words that I like them. If they are overused, it’s because they can’t be improved upon!

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