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I'm not exactly sure how to word my questions properly, but here it is: Say I receive a reply from customer support such as: "We will take your concern very seriously" But I get the feeling that this is just a generic reply without an actual possibility of the promise being fulfilled.

How do you call such a statement?


Wow, and I feared I asked a poor question. I had never dreamed of getting so much feedback, which is what makes accepting an answer so much more difficult (which is further complicated by not being a native speaker). Thanks to everyone for all the replies! I think I'll go with jwpat7's answer because it lists multiple possibilities along with explanations.

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In italian there is the expression "promessa di marinaio" (sailor's promise) to denote a promise devoid of real commitment. The idea is that sailors are traveling around the world, changing port very often and so they can say anything (promise a young girl to marry her, for instance?) without fear of having to oblige. –  Francesco Jan 10 '12 at 12:45
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11 Answers 11

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Smarmy is a possibility; it means "Falsely earnest, smug, or ingratiating." Also weaselly, in sense "A devious or sneaky person or animal", may apply. An uncommon word that might be relevant is fugacious, "Fleeting, fading quickly, transient", if you expect support to just forget the issue immediately.

More along the line of "empty promise" are words as found in a clique of illusory synonyms: chimerical, fancied, fanciful, fantastic, fictitious, illusory, imaginary, unreal, and similarly for fictive and perhaps for tenuous, "thin in substance or consistency".

Empty promises in the sense of "say what they want to hear" often are called blandishments, which is defined as "flattering speech or actions designed to persuade or influence."

Empty promises may also be evasions, lies, sophistry. Among the senses of the latter are "an argument that seems plausible, but is fallacious or misleading, especially one devised deliberately to be so"; "the art of using deceptive speech or writing"; and "cunning or trickery".

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I would describe such a reply as perfunctory:

  1. performed merely as a routine duty; hasty and superficial: perfunctory courtesy.
  2. lacking interest, care, or enthusiasm; indifferent or apathetic
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You might say "lip service".

"Verbal expression of agreement or allegiance, unsupported by real conviction or action; "

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I call it a lie.

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A generic reply of this sort is what's known as a pro forma statement:

pro forma, adj. : Done as a formality; perfunctory. [AHED]

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  • placating
  • boilerplate

Onomatomaniak answered “Perfunctory”, and that is dead-on.

  • trite
  • patronizing
  • mollify/pacify

(Just for some more ideas.)

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Another term is "pie-crust promise". Easily made, easily broken.

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That's one I haven't heard before, and the imagery is great. I'll try to incorporate that into my personal vocabulary. –  Blue Magister Jan 10 '12 at 5:39
    
Excellent imagery, but it sounds somewhat contrived. I'd love to use it, but would rather not have to explain it upon every use. –  scraimer Jan 11 '12 at 8:01
    
You'd only have to explain to people who haven't seen Mary Poppins –  Kevin Jan 12 '12 at 15:52
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What about nugatory or jejune?

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Let me throw in a technical term here:

lie - "2. An intentionally false statement."

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Insincere ...... ...... .......

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How about calling the statement apathetic? It seems to fit the bill quite nicely — "having little or no interest" especially in following up with your concern.

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