Everyone knows what a cliché is: a tired old phrase or expression dropped in thoughtlessly by speakers or writers who are either too lazy to express themselves properly or, much worse because it is intentional, so cynical that they know exactly what button it will push in their ignorant audience.

Take, for example, just elected or re-elected politicians who claim to be ‘humbled’ by their success. They have been selling their almost always aggressively ordinary personalities with a bag of catch-phrases, denigrating the opposition and generally bamboozling the electorate into polishing their hypertrophied egos with their votes.

This requires a more than usual degree of arrogance, hypocrisy and bumptiousness. The prize of power for which they have connived, plotted and overspent finally falls into their slavering jaws — and they’re humble? Always suspect anyone who makes a public virtue of humility.

Politics and journalism are the factories of cliché – Fox News is only the most egregious — and the history of the word itself is telling. In nineteenth-century France, when newspapers were even more astonishingly venal than they are today (hard to believe, we admit), the compositors who set the type by hand, letter by letter, would save time by reaching for a phrase or expression which, because of its familiarity, they had caused to be set against inevitable need in a single slug: a cliché, from the verb clicher, to cast, in this case appropriately in lead.

Technology has done little to battle the cliché, as a cursory glance at most blogs will show. But there is some hope. Editors of the Tasmanian Hansard, the reports of parliamentary debates, have developed a set of macros which will eliminate such expressions as ‘at the end of the day’ (voted most annoying cliché of 2006) with very few keystrokes.

Knocklofty intends to keep an eye on fashions in cliché. Many Australians will recall a period in which politicians, prominent usurers and other dubious public figures would regularly ‘refuse to resile’ from whatever position they had felt it expedient or profitable to adopt for the nonce. The expression fell out of fashion round about the end of the day.