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Three Proven Clichés: Truer Words Were Never Spoken

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Clichés are annoyingly difficult to escape, not only because they’re (by definition) overused, but also because they achieve what so few of the wordiest among us can: they make their points quickly and cleverly. “A stitch in time saves nine.” “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” (Rhyming while managing to stay succinct? Now, that’s skillful.) Even so, because they’re thrown about so often and usually with little thought, messages like these just don’t hold much water for us anymore. But though we may dismiss them as trite, some clichés are, for lack of a more original phrase, right on the money. In fact, beyond common sense, they even have science to back them up.

“You snooze, you lose.”
If you understood this cliché to mean that sleeping leads to underachievement, that would make it 100 percent wrong. We need a certain amount of sleep every night for optimal physical and emotional health. (That amount, rather than the oft-cited eight hours, is largely individual.) But if you took the phrase literally, then yes, sleeping does lead to actual loss—at least, according to various research on weight loss.

Studies show that when you don’t get enough sleep, your brain has to find another way to keep you awake during the day. Enter ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone that goes into production overdrive in an attempt to keep you hungry, and therefore awake. At the same time, levels of leptin, a hormone that signals satiation, decrease significantly. A 2010 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that participants who slept only 5.5 hours a night lost more than 50 percent less fat than those who slept 8.5 hours per night instead. Aside from the hormonal connection, being exhausted all the time doesn’t make anyone want to go to the gym or be all that active. The added stress then causes stronger cravings for comfort food (high-calorie, high-fat goods). Clearly, if you don’t snooze, it’s likely you won’t lose.

“Kill ’em with kindness.”
When dealing with bullies, you can do one of two things: give them a taste of their own medicine or kill them with kindness, which means countering their rudeness and aggression with courtesy and politeness. Almost all anti-bullying programs would advocate for the latter, but one in particular takes it further than most. Roots of Empathy (ROE), a classroom program that started in Canada and spread to the United States and New Zealand, believes that empathy is the key to reducing, if not eliminating, bullying. Students are taught empathy by routine visits from a baby and his or her parent. By watching the baby grow and learning to pick up on his or her emotional cues, ROE supporters believe that kids are more likely to understand themselves and others, which makes them less likely to harm themselves and others. What’s more, research at the University of British Columbia has shown an 88 percent decrease in aggression among students who participate in ROE’s program. A little lesson in kindness and empathy can go a long way.

“Out of sight, out of mind.”
Even if this cliché isn’t true in every respect (at least, not when you’re pining away for someone), we humans sometimes assume it is when we’re working in groups. Various psychological studies suggest that social loafing, the tendency of people working in groups to work a little less harder because they’re less directly responsible, is a very real thing. A 1993 meta-analysis covering seventy-eight studies and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that certain factors, like not caring about the task itself or having higher expectations of others’ performances, increase the “out of sight, out of mind” assumption.

But the cliché is true beyond group work situations as well. A 2010 study in the journal Tobacco Control found that after tobacco ads were removed from a certain location, only 22 percent of teenagers could remember the ads’ content (compared with a whopping 81 percent beforehand). The removal also lowered these teens’ beliefs about how many of their peers smoked. When the ads weren’t confronting them every day, they thought about them—and the prospect of smoking—much less. (If only that were true of that whole pining-away business.)

Relying on clichés is often thought of as lazy, but when it comes down to it, sometimes they say it better than any paraphrasing or unique spin ever could. Within those words that have been repeated infinitely are pearls of wisdom we’d all do well to remember as we go about our daily lives—even if, as is the case with these phrases, we have to fudge their original meaning a little to get to the golden truth. 


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