The Stock Phrase

A stock phrase is a phrase that describes a familiar situation or emotion in language approaching and sometimes tripping headlong into cliché. He was cold as ice, she burned with rage, it soared like a rocket, and it fell like a brickare all stock phrases. At one time, when the stock phrase was not so shopworn from use, it may have been a good example of imagistic, descriptive writing. He was cold as icehas the characteristics of good writing—the first readers likely shuddered at the image—but since then it has been used so often that readers no longer see or feel the image. Instead, the phrase functions as literary shorthand; the reader understands what the writer means but doesn't derive more than perfunctory meaning from it. A more original image or turn of phrase creates meaning specific to the characters, place, or scene. A stock phrase relies upon the generic meaning summoned by the countless times the reader has encountered it. To use a stock phrase or stock image is to hold a giant placard in front of the reader: SHE BURNED WITH RAGE = SHE WAS REALLY ANGRY.