Writers have been taught time and time again to avoid common expressions and clichés like bark up the wrong tree, cut to the chase, and go back to the drawing board. These phrases should be avoided because they have been used so frequently that the actual phrases lose meaning. In fact these expressions may lose the ability to conjure up images at all.
Many of us understand the meaning of a phrase like "running around like a chicken with its head cut off," but may never have actually seen how a chicken acts after it is beheaded. I hadn't until I recently "youtubed" it (I wouldn't recommend it). During a time when most people raised their own livestock, this expression was probably a good way to describe frantic, aimless running around. However for the people of Fruita, Colorado, the expression, "running around like a chicken with its head cut off," has special meaning.
In 1945, a man named Lloyd Olsen sauntered off to the chicken coop to fetch dinner for his wife and mother-in-law. He chose a chicken named Mike to garnish his platter. However, Mike had other aspirations. After running around with its head cut off, Mike clumsily balanced himself on a perch. Lloyd knew Mike must be miraculous and decided to nurture this headless cockerel. With an eyedropper, Lloyd would feed Mike milk, water, and a bit of corn. Mike then appeared on the big stage, publicly displayed for a fee of twenty-five cents. Unfortunately Mike's tour ended eighteen months later in a motel in Pheonix, where supposedly the cockerel choked on a kernel of corn.
How might you ask that a chicken can live for eighteen months without its head? The secret lies in the taste buds of Lloyd's mother-in-law. In order to make a good impression on his mother-in-law, Lloyd tried to savor the tastiest part of the chicken: its neck. When he beheaded Mike, he missed his carotid artery and left one ear and most of the brain stem intact. Fortunately for Mike, a clot prevented him from bleeding to death, and the brain stem is in charge of basic functions like heart rate and breathing, allowing Mike to function pretty normally.
Since 1999, Fruita, Colorado has commemorated Mike the headless chicken every third weekend in May with "Mike the Headless Chicken Day." This event includes a "5K Run Like a Headless Chicken Race," "Pin the Head on the Chicken,"the "Chicken Cluck-Off," and "Chicken Bingo."
Although this common expression may still have meaning to some, writers should still use caution when using these overused clichés.