Fight the Trite

Robert Wringham supports your right to have breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast

(Content from Issue Two. Buy the whole magazine here).

Happy Birthday to you, Thunk!
Happy Birthday to you, Thunk!
Happy Birthday dear Laaaaauraaaaaa, Thunk! Thunk!

I am in pain. It’s partially self-inflicted from bashing my head against the function room wall (balloons tacked into each corner, some hilariously arranged to resemble a cock and balls) and partly as a result of third-party cliché abuse.

Happy Birthday to yooooou.


You will never hear me sing the happy birthday song. No price is high enough.

Yes, I have a problem. I have a mental illness that nobody seems to understand. If I explain that it’s a bit like Tourette’s Syndrome, we’re getting close.

What’s the problem exactly? I am adverse to the trite: to doing what’s ‘expected’ or ‘required’ or to ‘go along with things’ – especially when doing so is supposed to be ‘fun’.

Don’t misread that I position myself as an angry rebel-to-the-core. I can conform when I have to. Then again, I’d probably betray us all to the storm troopers if we were hiding in the attic and some dickhole said, “Shhh”.

Like I say, it’s a syndrome.

Whenever I’m required to ‘join in’ – to clap along or to dance to music or to play some sort of game where a requirement is to work with other people – I am filled with a near-insatiable urge to do something weird: to strike a funny pose, to kick off an inappropriate conversation, to remove one of my shoes and begin to eat it, to aggressively overturn a table or to shout “Titfuck!” at the top of my lungs.

I just can’t help it. I sometimes stand backwards at gigs. I sometimes shout the words “Ha Ha Ha” at trite comedians. I’ve cleared chess boards when I’ve been expected to lose graciously. To use the language of the cliché bore, I’m a stick in the mud.

“Anything popular is wrong,” said Oscar Wilde. I’ve been spouting this little micro-quote for a long time now. The irony, of course, is that quoting Oscar Wilde is in itself pretty trite. As I hear myself quoting him, a little bit of vomit pools in the back of my mouth.

Slightly more palatable is the mirrored maxim, “Anything different is good.” Thus spake Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, when he’s finally released from the time loop: an endless cliché of his own making.

When you make small talk or confess to a ‘guilty pleasure’ or are moved to announce that you enjoy Family Guy (doesn’t everyone?) or decide to buy one of those brilliant Mr. Men t-shirts that everyone else is wearing or to strike up a conversation about how good the latest Bond movie was, you are effectively saying, “I am operating on default settings. I am Times New Roman in size 12.”

Fuck that.

Don’t think you can escape triteness by buying into an existing subculture either. If I see you wearing white make-up and a dog collar tomorrow, my friend, I will kick your ass.


Let’s declare war on the trite. When you see a singer on Jools Holland doing an impression of Chris Martin, please don’t reward him by going out and buying his CD, whether The Guardian likes it or not. Punish him! Don’t even let the TV people count your digital signal as a Nielson Rating: switch over to News24 or something instead. Hell, switch over to a channel that isn’t even broadcasting. Musak trumps music sometimes.


When someone uses a popular anachronism (“yeah, you and whose army?”), pull their trousers off. When their trousers are clumped around their ankles and they’re giving you a bemused “WTF?” expression, explain that you have Cliché Tourette’s. If you’re too much of a pacifist for that, just shout the word “HolocaustFuckCancerJar!” and carry on with the conversation as if nothing unusual had happened.

Neologisms are chief in our arsenal.


When someone speaks against non-sequitur or uses the phrase in the pejorative, give yourself a good, hard slap in the face. That’ll show ’em.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

6 Responses to “Fight the Trite”

  1. […] a remarkably similar observation to the one I make in Fight the Trite in the War Against Cliché Issue. I talk about wanting to physically harm myself or lash out at the […]

  2. Andrew says:

    I have a similar condition, though not as all-consuming. It’s most obvious in my inability to use the phrase “happy birthday” – except in quotation marks and for reference purposes only.

    On Facebook walls I started out writing sincere, personal wishes for the day, but after a year or two of that, it got harder to avoid repeating certain phrases. Eventually I had to resort to little non-sequiturs, which grew to families of non-sequiturs, such as: ‘She was like, “What?” And I was all: “I didn’t say anything.” Then the tide came in. And I haven’t seen her since December.’

    The war on trite has finally escalated to the point where, earlier this week, on a friend’s birthday, I wrote this on her wall:

    “We’re like birds,” he said, “the way we sail through life.”
    “Birds don’t sail, Gavin.” She laughed, but he could see she was a little irritated.
    “What about Daffy – he was in the navy.”
    “You mean Donald and he’s duck!”
    “Ducks are birds.” He shrugged as if being right was a burden he’d grown accustomed to bearing.

    Maybe I’m just looking for attention. Maybe it’s not the trite I’m fighting, but the fear of blending into the mindless mass of HBs and exclamation marks. I don’t know.

    Anyway, I realized that my ‘war on trite,’ (or whatever it is) combined with a counter-war against apathy and cynicism, has created a rather strange situation. So I Googled “I can’t say happy birthday” and “trite,” which led me to your great article. Good to know I’m not alone in this thing. Not quite an army, but not alone.

  3. I say, this is great. I love the way you found this post, simply by googling around. It shows that there’s always someone with a similar idea and that you can actually reach out and speak to each other about it. How utterly marvelous.

    Stay in touch, Phil, and keep an eye on New Escapologist. Might be your kind of thing.


  4. Philip? Or Andrew possibly. Sorry if I got your name wrong.

  5. Andrew says:

    Currently listening to your podcast. -Andrew (a new fan)

  6. Cool!

    The podcast is a complete shambles. We love making it though. I hope you enjoy listening to it too. I’ll send you an invite to the podcast’s Facebook page.

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