Definition of a Platitude

Platitude is a statement that’s repetitive, obvious, overly simple, and lacks depth or meaning. The term “platitude” has its roots in the French language, where “plat” and “tude” combine to mean “flatness.” Over time, its figurative sense has evolved to refer to the dull or clichéd quality of a saying or aphorism. Since the 17th century, the French language has used it to describe common and unoriginal remarks.

In essence, a platitude is a statement with a moral message that has lost its impact and freshness because it’s been overused. It may have significance in some ethical framework, but it’s rendered stale due to excessive repetition. People often use platitudes to avoid conflict or to simplify complex discussions by offering generalized, well-worn statements.

Flaws or Weak Points of a Platitude

Platitudes hold a significant value in language or literature due to their position in relation to their semantic value, as indicated by their name. This is supported by several reasons, which are 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

While cliches and platitudes are often conflated, they have distinct characteristics. A cliche, for one, is a well-worn expression that, despite its overuse, can still offer some insight or wisdom. On the other hand, a platitude is a simplified statement that may lack originality and insight. Both cliches and platitudes share commonalities; they’re expressions that have been used extensively, and both tend to lack originality. However, the key difference lies in the potential for insight – cliches, despite their overuse, can still carry some wisdom or meaning, whereas platitudes are typically simpler and less likely to provide a fresh perspective. So, while they may seem similar at first glance, their impact and depth set them apart.

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

In this insightful book, the author not only distinguishes between these terms but also provides concrete examples from reputable sources. Williams skillfully dissects the nuances of these systems, demonstrating how one can strategically deploy platitudes and cliches to achieve precision and effectiveness in communication. Williams’ perspective challenges the notion of outright avoidance of these well-worn words and phrases. Instead, he encourages readers to embrace them, leveraging their familiarity and modifying them to suit specific contexts and purposes. He advocates for the art of skillful adaptation, revealing how these seemingly trite expressions can be valuable tools in one’s communication toolbox when employed thoughtfully and creatively.

Example #2

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

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 is from Philip William Turner’s book, where he offers a concise explanation of platitudes. Turner argues that while the use of platitudes may suggest societal maturity, the reality is far more complex. Platitudes, he suggests, reflect the intricate tapestry of society, expressing a wide range of emotions, feelings, and sentiments in various contexts. It’s this very diversity that often leads to their overuse, making them appear tired and lacking in freshness. In essence, Turner highlights how platitudes, despite their shortcomings, serve as mirrors to the diverse and ever-evolving social landscape.

Example #4

A Dictionary of Platitudes by Gustave Flaubert

This book is quite intriguing. It serves as an encyclopedia of platitudes, which some find amusing, while others consider it a humorous compendium. What makes it stand out is its comprehensive compilation of all the platitudes that were in vogue during Flaubert’s era. The author has painstakingly gathered these sayings from world classics and arranged them in alphabetical order for easy reference. It’s a valuable resource for exploring the language and common expressions of that time.

Functions of Platitude

Platitudes serve several functions, shedding light on the moral dimensions of an issue and providing clarity for both speakers and listeners in a debate. These often trite expressions offer a simplified perspective on complex situations. Interestingly, they tend to emerge when tensions run high, and parties involved may be on the brink of confrontation. By offering a simplified, if not entirely satisfactory, solution, platitudes can defuse intense situations. They have a knack for working wonders when conflicts arise, as they provide a common ground for parties to engage in a dialogue, even if it’s rooted in a simplified viewpoint. In this way, platitudes can serve as bridges between differing perspectives.


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