Avoid them, unless they’re funny.
‘Pulling out all the stops’ is a cliché. Use it only when referring to organists.
As a matter of fact, in our humble opinion, clichés should be consigned to the dustbin once and for all (excuse the irony and quartet of clichés here). Once you’ve fallen into the habit (oops) of cliché writing, your copy is doomed to dullness.
Clichés are the hackneyed phrases that are relied upon so often that they get tapped onto keyboards without thought or insight. From the French verb clicher — to stereotype — a cliché originally referred to the cast obtained from molten metal during the printing process in the nineteenth century. They are as relevant to good writing as hot metal is to printing today.
Cast out those clichés which contain redundant words — the doublets. They are the easiest to spot, being idioms like ‘leap and bound’, or alliterative phrases like ‘safe and sound’, ‘first and foremost’ or ‘chop and change’. ‘Pick and choose’ a word to lose, and your sentence will make just as much sense. Possibly more so. Florence Nightingale once was described as a ‘living legend in her own lifetime’ — a sentence with the unenviable record of including two clichés in half a dozen words (‘living legend’ and ‘legend in her own lifetime’) where the only alternative could be the spectre of the ‘dead legend in her own lifetime’.
When overused, similes and proverbs become clichés. Employ them if they illuminate a passage, but if a phrase springs to mind easily, chances are it’s a cliché.
Nonetheless, a new spin on an old cliché can explain a point and raise a smile. So being as ‘mad as a hatter’ is a cliché, borne out of history and literature. Its new variant ‘as mad as a box of frogs’, by contrast, could capture the image you want to express — for a while.
Writing in clichés may be as old as the hills (another one!). But this doesn’t make it right. Take a pause before tapping the keyboard and see your writing improve noticeably.