I. What is a Platitude?
A platitude (pronounced plat-i-tood) repeats obvious, simple, and easily understood statements that have little meaning or emotional weight. Most writers and speakers aim to avoid platitudes, for fear of accusations of simple-mindedness or oversimplification of complicated subjects.
II. Examples of Platitudes
Although platitudes are ultimately to be avoided, they can be found frequently in everyday conversation.
This phrase announces the obvious and has little weight.
Good things come to those who wait.
To the anxious and ambitious alike, this platitude gives little relief.
That’s just my personal opinion.
This platitude is weightless in that all opinions are simply personal views.
III. The Importance of Platitude
Platitudes are trite statements that simplify rather than explore complicated subjects. If life could be boiled down to our numerous platitudes, it would be a lot easier to live. In reality, though, life is complicated and difficult at times, and platitudes lack the depth and complexity to truly help or provide wisdom. Regardless, platitudes sometimes help when they do successfully simplify difficult situations. When dealing with pain, sayings as simple as “Life goes on” or “Keep on keeping on” can be encouraging.
IV. Platitude Versus Creative Writing
Because platitudes are typically avoided just as unoriginality is avoided, here are a few examples of platitudes versus creative writing which avoids platitudes:
We all die someday.
Although this platitude is true, it is not compelling, interesting, or insightful.
Death left its old tragic heaven and became the lyrical core of man: his invisible truth, his visible secret.
Michel Foucault wrote this of death in his book The Birth of the Clinic, tapping into a truth about death with poeticism and honesty.
Sure, this is true, but what does it tell us about life and how to live?
We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.
In this quote, W. Somerset Maugham begins with the idea that everyone changes and applies it to difficulties in developing and maintaining relationships when both parties are in constant flux.
As can be seen from these examples, platitudes can be written by anyone. Truly literary and insightful alternatives, on the other hand, require skill and wisdom.
V. Examples of Platitudes in Pop Culture
Platitudes may be found throughout pop culture. Slow characters in movies, plays, TV shows, and advertisements often speak in platitudes for a comedic effect. Many inspirational or shallowly appealing advertisements use platitudes to quickly touch emotions of viewers without digging too deep. Pop songs, attempting to convey ideas about love and life simply and quickly often sink into platitudinous phrases as well.
“Wide Awake” by Katy Perry
How did I read the stars so wrong?
I’m wide awake
And now it’s clear to me
That everything you see
Ain’t always what it seems
I’m wide awake
Yeah, I was dreaming for so long
“Wide Awake” is catchy, but it is also laced with platitudes from “Everything isn’t always what it seems” to “I wish I knew then what I know now.”
“Whatever Will Be” by Vanessa Hudgens
I finally learned to say
Whatever will be will be
I’ve learned to take
The good, the bad and breathe
‘Cause although we like
To know what life’s got planned
No one knows if shooting stars will land
This song plays on a variety of platitudes: “whatever will be, will be,” “take the good with the bad,” and the idea that “life is a mystery.”
VI. Related Terms
Both platitudes and clichés are used frequently in everyday language but warned against in more formal writing and speech. Often listed as synonyms, platitudes and clichés have a few small differences. For one, clichés are defined as overused phrases. Phrases that were once considered original or insightful become clichés when they are overused, whereas platitudes are always considered shallow and unoriginal. Platitudes by definition simplify complex ideas, whereas clichés can handle both complex and simple ideas. Here are a few examples of platitudes versus clichés:
Every cloud has a silver lining.
Although this phrase has become cliché, it began as a unique metaphor, likening difficulties in life with hidden blessings to clouds with silver linings.
Sometimes bad things lead to good things.
This platitude has the same meaning, but it lacks the once-original phrasing of the cliché.
All that glitters is not gold.
Not everything is what it seems.
Clichés and platitudes express the same ideas, but in slightly different ways.
A truism is just what it sounds like: a saying that is so very obviously true it says nothing of consequence or interest. Platitudes, on the other hand, are not always necessarily true. Here are a few examples of truisms versus platitudes:
Something will happen.
Everything happens for a reason.
Whereas the truism is undeniably true, the platitude makes a claim that things happen for a reason. Such a claim requires proof of a higher order versus a universal randomness.
You’re not dead yet.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Once again, truisms state the obvious whereas platitudes often make a claim. Not all would agree with the platitude that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Some would argue it could, in fact, make you weaker.