Platitude – Definition, Meaning & Examples

17.04.24 Sayings Time to read: 8min

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Platitudes, the “fast food” of verbal exchange, are a special type of saying – quick, easy, and also not very nourishing. These commonplace sayings serve up comfort or wisdom in a one-size-fits-all fashion, much like a universal baseball cap. While aiming to stitch together the fabric of social discourse, they sometimes only manage to “sew” confusion, leaving us entangled in the threads of clichéd expressions.

Platitude in a nutshell

A platitude is an overused, clichéd saying, offering little originality or insight, often used in attempts to comfort or advise but perceived as insincere due to its familiarity.

Definition: Platitude

A platitude is a trite, meaningless statement that, while it may be true, has lost its significance due to excessive use. The term originates from the French word “plat,” meaning flat, highlighting the flatness or banality of such statements.

It’s a remark or saying that is typically moralizing, vague, and offered as if it were significant and original, even though it’s usually neither. While intended to soothe or motivate, they often tend to frustrate or disengage audiences, as their overfamiliarity generally renders them perceived as insincere or lacking in genuine empathy.

Examples for platitudes

  • Tomorrow is another day.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Etymology

The etymology of the word “platitude” traces back to French, from the word “plat” meaning “flat.” It entered the English language in the early 1810s. In French, “plat” can refer to physical flatness, like the flatness of a surface, but it can also metaphorically suggest a lack of depth or originality in ideas or expressions.

The suffix “-itude” is used to form nouns indicating a condition or quality, so the term litreally refers to the quality or condition of being flat or dull.

The term “platitude” thus originally denoted statements that were flat, dull, or trite in terms of intellectual or emotional resonance.

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Types

These kinds of sayings can be categorized based on their intended purpose or the context in which they are typically used. Below, you’ll find some well-known platitudes.

These are meant to offer solace in times of grief or difficulty. The aim is, as the name already implies, to comfort the person in front of you.

Examples

  • Time heals all wounds.
  • Everything happens for a reason.

This suggests that pain or grief diminishes with time, an attempt to provide hope. However, it overlooks the active emotional processing required for healing. The sentence below suggests that everything is already “written” and happens to teach, or show you, something.

In a motivational context, these expressions aim to inspire or encourage an action. These sayings are oftentimes used in self-help or professional development contexts.

Examples

  • Believe in yourself.
  • Follow your dreams.

This phrase champions ambition but glosses over the practicalities, hardships, and strategic planning necessary for success. Both can be used to motivate somaeone around you.

Platitudes can also convey moral lessons or virtues, sometimes in a judgmental or preachy manner.

Examples

  • Honesty is the best policy.
  • The early bird catches the worm.

These examples show the advantages of being honest or proactive. It suggests that individuals who start their tasks early, and always tell the truth, are more likely to achieve success.

In professional settings, you will encounter these kinds of expressions to motivate employees, encourage teamwork, or communicate certain values or principles.

Examples

  • Teamwork makes the dream work.
  • Hard work pays off.

Both expressions are used to motivate employees or colleagues and indicate that hard work (also within the team) will eventually pay off.

These statements are redundant or circular, saying nothing beyond what is already obvious.

Examples

  • It is what it is.
  • A penny saved is a penny earned.

Both sentences are tautologies because they restate the obvious, somehow using the circular reasoning autumnacy that ends up saying nothing new or useful.

These types of sayings are often used to convey universal truths or insights in a concise and sometimes oversimplified manner:

Examples

  • Life is what you make out of it.
  • Actions speak louder than words.

Both examples oversimplify complex issues; however, they serve as a useful reminder or guiding principle.

These examples illustrate how platitudes can be used in various contexts, from attempting to offer solace during difficult times to encourageing patience or resilience. Despite their prevalence, the effectiveness and appropriateness of platitudes can vary greatly depending on the situation and the individuals involved.

Psychology behind platitudes

The psychology behind the use of platitudes is multifaceted, reflecting both the speaker’s intentions and the listener’s perceptions. Below, you’ll find three reasons why people use these expressions:

Comfort and reassurance

In times of distress or uncertainty, people often resort to platitudes as a way to offer comfort or support. The familiar, predictable nature of these phrases can provide a sense of solidarity and understanding, even if they don’t address the complexity of the situation. This stems from a desire to say something supportive when one might be unsure of what specifically to say.

Social norms

The use of these expressions can also be influenced by cultural and social norms. In many cultures, maintaining positive social interactions and avoiding confrontation are valued. Platitudes fit perfectly within these parameters, allowing individuals to adhere to societal expectations.

Anxiety reduction

For the speaker, using platitudes can reduce the anxiety associated with expressing deep or controversial opinions. For the listener, hearing these phrases in response to their troubles can reduce feelings of isolation, even if it does not solve the underlying issue.

Examples of platitude

Across the globe, amidst the rich tapestry of languages and cultures, some phrases stand out as universally understood. Below, you’ll find several examples of platitudes from other countries and languages.

Latin

Latin, with its rich history and influence on Western culture, has provided a wealth of platitudes that continue to resonate today. These sayings, steeped in wisdom, offer timeless insights into human nature, ethics, and the complexities of life.

Example

Latin: “Carpe diem.”

Translation: “Seize the day.”

Carpe diem is a platitude that encourages individuals to make the most of the present mument without worrying too much about the future. It’s a call to live life to the fullest, recognising the fleeting nature of time.

Example

Latin: “Memento mori.”

Translation: “Remember that you will die.”

A philosophical reminder of life’s impermanence and the inevitability of death, urging individuals to live virtuously and mindfully, with an awareness that life is temporary.

Spanish

In the Spanish language, these expressions convey universal truths, wisdom, ethical principles, and traditional values through concise and memorable expressions. Below, you’ll find examples along with their explanation.

Example

Spanish: “En boca cerrada no entran moscas.”

Translation: “Flies don’t enter a closed mouth.”

It’s similar to saying that sometimes it’s better to remain silent and avoid trouble, instead of discussing or arguing. This is commonly used in situations where there’s a risk of saying something that could be harmful, misunderstood, or better left unsaid. It also serves as a reminder that not every thought or opinion needs to be said aloud, especially if it could lead to negative outcomes.

Example

Spanish: “Mi casa es su casa.”

Translation: “My house is your house.”

This is often used in litreal home settings, but also as a metaphor to convey a sense of sharing and generosity in other aspects of life. It represents a spirit of sharing and community, a willingness to open up one’s personal space, resources, or even one’s heart to others, making them feel welcomed and included.

Arabic

The Arabic culture is rich with proverbs and platitudes that reflect its deep history, values, and wisdom, as illustrated below.

Example

Arabic: “الصبر مفتاح الفرج” (As-Sabr Miftah Al-Faraj)

Translation: “Patience is the key to relief.”

This example underscores the virtue of patience in overcoming difficulties and challenges. It suggests that enduring hardships with patience will eventually lead to a resolution or relief from one’s troubles.

Example

Arabic: “الرضا بالمكتوب” (Ar-rida bil-maktub)

Translation: “Satisfaction with destiny.” or “Contentment with what is written.”

This phrase reflects a deep-rooted cultural and religious belief in predestination, which is a significant concept in many Arabic cultures and particularly in Islamic teachings. It suggests that the course of one’s life, including its trials and blessings, is predetermined or written by a higher power (in Islamic belief, by Allah).

French

French culture, known for its rich litreary tradition and philosophical depth, has contributed numerous expressions that resonate well beyond its borders. However, French platitudes are cherished for their ability to convey complex ideas and emotions concisely and memorably.

Example

French: “C’est la vie.”

Translation: “That’s life.” or “That’s how things happen.”

This expression encourages a mindset of resilience and pragmatism, advising against focusing excessively on misfortunes or trying to resist the unchangeable. Instead, it promotes moving forward with a sense of peace and acceptance, embodying a certain “joie de vivre” (joy of living) despite life’s inherent unpredictability.

Example

French: “Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.”

Translation: “Little by little, the bird makes its nest.”

This phrase is equivalent to the English saying “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” It warns against the presumption of success before it is secured and advises caution and realism in planning, reminding us not to take future gains for granted or make plans based on uncertain outcomes.

More examples from other languages

Platitudes, with their universal appeal to common sentiments and wisdom, transcend cultural boundaries and can be found in various forms around the world. Below, you’ll find examples across the globe:

Origin Platitude litreal Translation Meaning
Japanese Nanakorobi yaoki. autumn seven times, stand up eight. Keep trying.
Russian Na bezryb'ye i rak ryba. In the absence of fish, even a crayfish is a fish. Be thankful for what you have.
Indian Boond boond se sagar bharta hai. Drop by drop, the ocean fills. Be patient.
German Ende gut, alles gut. All's well that ends well. Focus on the outcome.
Italian Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano. Who goes slowly, goes safely and far. Take your time.
Greek Panta rhei. Everything flows. Constant change.
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FAQs

Platitudes are commonplace statements or truisms that are often used to offer comfort, advice, or wisdom in a broad, somewhat clichéd manner. They are characterized by their overuse and lack of originality, resulting in a diminished impact or meaning when conveyed.

People often use platitudes as a means of navigating social interactions and expressing common sentiments simply and recognizably. They serve as convenient tools for offering comfort, encouragement, or sympathy, especially in situations where finding the right words is challenging.

Cliché: A cliché is a phrase, expression, or idea that has been overused to the point that it loses its original meaning or novelty.

Platitude: This is a type of statement that is often moralistic or seeks to offer comfort, wisdom, or encouragement in a broad, somewhat generic manner.

A false platitude refers to a statement that appears to offer wisdom or comfort on the surface, but is insincere or superficial in the context in which it is used.