Definition of a Platitude

Platitude means statements that are repeated, obvious, simple, and easily understood with little meaning or expression. Etymologically, the word platitude comes from the French language made up of two different words “plat” and “tude” which means “flatness.” However, it has encompassed vast meanings in it, specifically in the figurative sense it means the banal quality of some saying or aphorism. Since the 17th century, the French language has used it as a common remark or a trite sentence.

Definitionally, it is a statement having moral content that has become trite and stale due to overuse despite having imperious status in some ethical framework. The reason for this status is that it simply repeats a sentence that has become trite due to overuse. It is often used when a person does not want to invite the wrath of others and ends the discussion on some generalization or over-simplification of the subject under debate.

Flaws or Weak Points of a Platitude

As the name also indicates its position vis-à-vis its semantic value, platitudes are of significant value in language or literature on account of several reasons stated below.

  1. They give a wrong or false impression of the person using them as evidence of his wisdom.
  2. They are even worse than using cliches.
  3. They make people accept stupid and nonsense as facts and truths.
  4. They become nonsense and useless tautologies.
  5. Significant points become trivial due to over-usage.

Difference between Platitude and Cliché

Although cliches and platitudes are considered the same thing, they are different in nature. A cliché is an overused statement that is insightful. However, platitude is a simplified phrase though may not be original or insightful. Yet, both are common expressions, both are overused and both are unoriginal.

Some General Examples of Platitudes

  1. You feel young as you are young.
  2. Crime boomerangs on the criminals.
  3. It does not matter what you are doing as long as you are having fun with it.
  4. Love begets love.
  5. Who laughs last, laughs best.
  6. Somebody always needs somebody.
  7. Life is not a bed of roses.
  8. Life is a walking shadow.
  9. Man is mortal.
  10. A dog is a loyal animal.
  11. The jury is still out.
  12. Health is wealth
  13. You can bank on that.
  14. Beauty is as beauty does.
  15. The Midas touch.
  16. Honest is the best policy.

Examples of Platitude in Literature

Example #1

 “Platitude:” The World’s Secrets Hidden Behind The Word Cliché by Tristan Stone Williams

This book not only differentiates between both of these terms but also cites examples from different reliable sources. Williams has broken down the ways into systems, showing that you can use platitudes and cliches on different occasions to suit your purpose to become more exact and precise. He is of the view that you should not shun these trite words and phrases; rather you should enjoy using them with different amendments and changes.

Example #2

From A Modern Comedy by John Galsworthy

“Well, it’s a platitude that a woman always wants some other soul – only people have forgotten it. Look at the Sistine Madonna! The baby has a soul of its own, and the Madonna’s floating on the soul of the baby. That’s what makes it a great picture, apart from the line and color. It states a great platitude; but nobody sees it.”

John Galsworthy has used platitude and tersely explained it in this passage taken from A Modern Comedy, his phenomenal book. The platitude of “The baby has a soul of its own” shows his use of this platitude and its understanding. He compares it with the painting and then concludes that the line and color in the painting it this platitude a great one.

Example #3

From Crossroads are for Meeting: Essays on the Mission and Common Life of the Church in a Global Society by Philip William Turner

“It is another slogan-turned-war-cry to say that mankind has “come of age.” It is certainly a platitude to assert that all over the world human societies are showing the symptoms, welcome or unwelcome, of healthy adolescence; a passionate affirmation of autonomy; an impatience with authority, especially when imposed from outside; an energy and self-assurance that promise something.”

This passage occurs in the book of Philip William Turner. It explains a platitude in very terse and brief pointers. He is of the view that although the use of platitude shows that mankind has come of age, the real situation is quite different. They, in fact, are the reflection of the entire social fabric, showing different emotions, feelings, and sentiments toward different things in different contexts. That is why they become mostly overused, trite, and often stale.

Example #4

A Dictionary of Platitudes by Gustave Flaubert

This is an interesting book. It is an encyclopedia of platitudes that some people call fun while some others call it a humorous compendium. Its quality lies in the collection of all platitudes used during the time of Flaubert. He has listed all of them in alphabetical order after collecting them from the world classics.

Functions of Platitude

A platitude shows the moral side of a problem, making aware the speakers as well as the listeners about their positions during a debate. However, it is interesting that they are often used when the situations get tense, and the parties may come to blows if such over-simplification of the complex situations do not emerge through such trite statements that sum up the solution and yet leave the parties unsatisfied about their situations. They often work wonders where conflicts arise.


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