The word may also be used when referring to really dull signage for a government organization.

  • 2
    Are you looking for a word with a positive or negative connotation?
    – Adam
    Feb 3, 2011 at 0:33

14 Answers 14


Perhaps prosaic or pedestrian fits the bill.


I'm going to go with insipid.


One possibility would be pabulum (also spelled pablum):

something (as writing or speech) that is insipid, simplistic, or bland

  • 5
    A good word, but the meaning would be unclear to many. I'm torn between promoting the word, or 'dumbing down' with a more commonly understood alternative.
    – CJM
    Jan 31, 2011 at 12:35
  • Yep. Despite meaning simplistic, its "neoclassical" sound gives the impression of "simplistic… like the common plebeians." Jan 31, 2011 at 23:33
  • 1
    Also reminds me of baby food.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    May 20, 2011 at 12:39

There are already a few fine candidates on this page (I like pedestrian and pablum), but I am not sure if any of them actually have the connotation of purposely.

One word that does have that connotation, at least to me, would be wishy-washy. However, I'm not sure it could be applied to "really dull signage"; I would rather call that one run-of-the-mill.

  • 2
    Perhaps a nice alliterative phrasing would get the point across properly: "The agency insists on spoonfeeding us this purposefully pedestrian pablum ..."
    – Hellion
    Jan 31, 2011 at 17:23

Anodyne, which strictly speaking means soothing, is often used to describe boring and/or non-commital official statements and publications.

For me at least, it carries overtones of wishing to avoid giving offense, with the (not always unintentional) side-effect of reducing both clarity and actual semantic content.

LATER - Several of the alternative proposed by others are words that can be used for OP's purpose, and to be honest OP's noun signage seems a bit too obscure to be worth looking for adjectives that do get used with that word.

But I'm still focussed on actual usage, and anodyne statement seems like a good enough variation to check. This NGram confirms it's not only used, but gaining currency by the decade.


It's called boilerplate and you usually find it in government and legal documents.

  • It's actually more refering to the dullness. It's like bland or boring.
    – apf
    Jan 31, 2011 at 1:03
  • 2
    Boilerplate is bland and boring. It's apparently designed to say as little as possible using as many words as possible. Originally it meant standardized pieces of text for use (and reuse) in official documents, but it has come to mean any dull, official prose.
    – Robusto
    Jan 31, 2011 at 1:07
  • 2
    I'm not sure if it's quite what they are after, boilerplate in the sense described, has a connection to any text that can be reused in new contexts without being changed much from the original. Where as the question is referring to 'dull signage' - a style as opposed to documentation.
    – dpmguise
    Jan 31, 2011 at 1:29
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    I agree with the other commenters: the primary meaning of boilerplate is still "stock text" - reusable text that can be used without much thought or effort. The fact that such text is often dull and boring is merely a side effect.
    – Marthaª
    Jan 31, 2011 at 2:11
  • 2
    Adding to Martha, calling a specific document "boilerplate" would be incorrect (and perhaps accusatory) if the document were in fact written for a specific occasion, regardless of dullness. Jan 31, 2011 at 4:42

my main suggestion:
"monotonous" (which can, in fact, have a non-verbal meaning)

a few others:
"lacking personality" (which is actually two words)
"wordy" (not a word I would use, but fits the requirements)
"needlessly redundant" (again with two words)
"emotionless" (especially the government signage part)
"professional" (sadly...)

  • "Monotonous" was also my favourite. Normally it's used for speech but I even find it evocative when used of a document. May 20, 2011 at 16:47

Milquetoast! Such a colorful word for blandness.

  • 5
    Two problems with this: (1) In my mind, the primary attribute of a milquetoast is timidness, with a side order of ineffectiveness; any blandness is a side effect of such a person's unwillingness to be adventurous. (2) This adjective really only works for people, not for text.
    – Marthaª
    Jan 31, 2011 at 20:09
  • (1) Yes, but blandness is the usual result of timidness. (2) I've often heard it applied to products in reviews. It would work for a story, but probably not for a government report. I think it would work for signage (street or indoor) which is supposed to be eye-catching. Jan 31, 2011 at 23:31

As you say "really dull signage", I presume that you're looking for a negative connotation.

Stodgy, vacuous; turgid would be my favourite.

  • Stodgy means conservative, which probably fits but refers to content, not style. Vacuous means meaningless or equivocal, so probably doesn't fit. Turgid means bombastic or grandiose, which is the opposite of what we want. Jan 31, 2011 at 11:18
  • @potatos I was referring to the sense according to dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/turgid_1 : turgid adjective ( TOO SERIOUS ) /ˈtɜː.dʒɪd//ˈtɝː-/ formal (of speech, writing, style, etc.) too serious about its subject matter; boring. Jan 31, 2011 at 12:31
  • 1
    I don't see how vacuous can work, even with that definition. Something may show a lot of intelligent thought and purpose, and still be written a very boring, dull and bland style. Jan 31, 2011 at 13:01
  • 2
    Er, are you saying that there's something wrong with picking holes in others' submissions? I thought that's what comments are for (and also the downvote feature, which I like to use sparingly). I'm adding value to the thread by reducing the potential of one of the suggested options to mislead, and by adding more information about the implications of 'vacuous'. (It would be even more value if that particular suggestion were removed, but that's not in my hands. :p) We're all here to learn. Jan 31, 2011 at 13:57
  • 2
    It is strange to see someone take so personally an observation about a word. :-) We are here to discuss language, too, after all… and was there anything wrong with the tone and attitude in pointing out that vacuous does not mean bland? I really meant to cause no offence; I thought I was just making an observation on the distinctness of the meanings. Jan 31, 2011 at 14:20

For the connotations of lack of style but still useful:

  • utilitarian
  • spartan
  • +1 I like spartan for that purpose. Austere is another that could do the job.
    – ajk
    May 20, 2011 at 14:39

bureaucratese is more for longer stretches of words than a sign, but captures the sense of boring, like turhid and stodgy mentioned elsewhere.

  • Or use bureaucratic.
    – Wayne
    May 20, 2011 at 15:15
  • @Wayne: even though that literal change to an adjective fits the part of speech desired, the connotations of 'bureaucratic' don't seem to fit the requirements as well as 'bureaucratese'. You'd think they'd be the same but they don't feel that way.
    – Mitch
    May 20, 2011 at 16:15

Staid just means “Serious, organized, and professional; sober”, according to Wiktionary. As it makes something of a virtue out of blandness, it makes it sound like it might be intentional. Other words along these lines include sedate, temperate, moderate, and mild. But I get the feeling there is a much better one that I’m missing.

Another tack is to try words that describe things used intentionally to put people to sleep: lulling, soporific, anaesthetic.


I've also heard the word 'blasé' used to describe an object that was bland or boring and without any exciting or pleasurable qualities.

  • I've never come across that usage before. Are you sure you're not equating uninterested with uninteresting? One meaning of blasé is being uninterested in things because you've already had a surfeit of them. Another is sophisticated, which moves some way towards describing a person who might be considered interesting to others, even if they're not actually interested in much themselves. May 21, 2011 at 1:38

To make a precise and pointed reference to the fact that 'it had to be dull, so it is', we resort to 'Stupidized'. May not sound politically correct, but the term has been around in the technical field.

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