I don’t know about you, but I love onomatopoeia words. (In case you don’t remember your primary school grammar, LOL, those are words that sound like what they represent–like boom, bang, snap, pop, and so on.) You know what’s even more fun? International onomatopoeia words!
And that, believe it or not, is what cliché is–it’s French onomatopoeia! Technically speaking, cliché is simply French for “click.” That makes sense when you look at it, right? And click is certainly an onomatopoeia in English. The same holds true in French too, where it’s a past participle form of the verb clicher…and was used as a word by printers to indicate a particular printing block, so named because of the sound of a mold striking metal.
So…how did it come to mean “a trite and worn-out phrase”?
Because one of the wonders of the printing press is that you can make the same word or phrase or page or book over and over and over again. This is an example, then, of printing jargon entering into common usage.
But it took quite a while for that to happen. The first recorded use of cliché in English was in 1888, but it didn’t actually catch on and become popular until the 1920s!