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Is there a phrase or word in the English language that describes a statement or a discourse that seems meaningless or so broad it lacks value?

For example

Society grows best when those who plant trees don't expect to sit in shade.

While the sentence is cohesive, I personally find it meaningless. Is there a word to describe this? Saying this statement is trivial wouldn't be correct, as the implications are not obvious.

Basically I'm asking what's a politically correct synonym for saying something is "bullshit".

Another example is this quote

We are prisoners in the present, locked in eternal transition between our past and our future.

Perhaps in context it's meaningful but to arbitrarily say we are prisoners of the present, I personally find is idiotic.

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    Why do you describe this as 'an ineligible sentence'? I don't incidentally, find it meaningless. In fact it seems quite profound. It means that where people who never have the expectation of using the things that society is creating do the 'planting', then a more long-term perspective can be taken. Slower-growing, and hence more substantial trees will be planted. Hence in those conditions society will grow best. I would be interested to know who said it. – WS2 Mar 19 '14 at 21:57
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    I think you mean "legible" not "eligible" – Adriano Varoli Piazza Mar 20 '14 at 19:39
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    I'd call that second one mock profound. – TRiG Mar 20 '14 at 20:22
  • It makes sense to me. Could be worded a little better though. – RBarryYoung Mar 20 '14 at 23:24

22 Answers 22

22

Vacuous

The Free Dictionary says

  1. a. Lacking intelligence; stupid. b. Devoid of substance or meaning; inane ...
18

I'm not sure it's exactly what you're looking for but you might call such a saying a platitude.

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    Empty platitudes, in fact. – tchrist Mar 19 '14 at 23:24
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    Are there full platitudes? – Spehro Pefhany Mar 20 '14 at 23:49
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    And the adjectival form is "platitudinous". – Hugh Bothwell Mar 21 '14 at 3:35
  • Such a statement might be platitudinous, but a platitude is not necessarily a vacuous statement of the type the question describes. "There there, it will be OK" is a platitude, but it is not meaningless in the way asked about. – GreenAsJade Mar 21 '14 at 12:57
  • May not be exactly what the OP was looking for but it what I was looking for. A good word for 90% of what politicians say. – Wayne Dec 7 '16 at 18:47
15

Inane, while the definition in simply silly/stupid Oxford Dictionary cites the origin as: mid 16th century: from Latin inanis 'empty, vain'

I think the connotation of vanity is important, for the statement is not just hollow, it may be self-servingly so.

10

If the statement is meaningless because it's obviously true in context, you can call it a tautology or tautological. If it's meaningless because it makes no sense in context, you can call it a non sequitur. Be careful with the spelling of the latter; it's commonly misspelled.

  • Yea I was thinking of tautology, from logic class where "x implies x" is called a tautology. – Celeritas Mar 20 '14 at 3:30
  • @Celeritas Tautology is used slightly differently in rhetoric and grammar than it is in logic, although all of them capture the general notion of stating (or repeating) something that is already known to be true, and therefore pointless. I linked to the Wikipedia disambiguation page, which then links to all of the various common uses of the word. – Bradd Szonye Mar 20 '14 at 4:31
  • A non-sequitur may make no sense, but this is not what is fundamental about it. A non-sequitur can make perfect sense, but just doesn't follow logically from the previous statement. Therefore I will go to bed now. – GreenAsJade Mar 21 '14 at 12:58
  • @GreenAsJade Agreed. In practice though, people don't generally bother to mention non sequiturs unless you're talking malarkey. – Bradd Szonye Mar 21 '14 at 18:28
  • I wonder if this is people using it who don't know what it means? "That's a bit of a non-sequitur, isn't it?" seems quite "normal" usage for someone who says something unrelated, to the flow of conversation, irrespective of twaddle. – GreenAsJade Mar 21 '14 at 23:32
7

Vapid, which is offering nothing that is stimulating or challenging.

  • Great suggestion! – GreenAsJade Mar 21 '14 at 12:59
4

Your question is pointless and worthless.

Your examples are nonsensical.

3

Twaddle has lately been my favorite term for statements like that.

It means exactly what you've asked for: Insignificant, trivial nonsense in speech or writing.

1

Hokum, flapdoodle, blatherskite

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/hokum Hokum is probably an alteration of hocus-pocus and bunkum source

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/flapdoodle

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/blatherskite

E.g.

The second part of his statement was the kind of populist hokum that carries as much intellectual weight as an X-Factor judge's comments: source

Philosophical flapdoodle and follies of ideation. source

What a load of blatherskite and balderdash. source

1

If you want to describe something that seems meaningless, rather than is meaningless, and thus be more polite about it, consider these words. They leave room, when you use them, to be understood that you are not quite to the point of claiming something is complete nonsense:

Incomprehensible: impossible to understand or comprehend; unintelligible.

Cryptic: mysterious in meaning; puzzling; ambiguous.

Perplexing: to cause to be puzzled or bewildered over what is not understood or certain.

And not quite so polite:
Inane: lacking sense, significance, or ideas.

  • Inane is a good one for this question, for sure. – GreenAsJade Mar 21 '14 at 12:59
1

I think my favourite is 'waffle' which is essentially people talking on and on running out the clock. Popular with politicians.

'Piffle' is what you might say to call something nonsense.

1

While perhaps not exactly pertinent to the sentences selected by the OP, mumbo jumbo does describe those instances where a combination of phrases, words, and expressions are practically meaningless to the lay person.

I am thinking of legalese, especially the itty bitty print that you see at the end of every contract you will ever sign in your lifetime. That very bit, which everyone tells you should read before signing, but when you do your eyes glaze over, your brain enters mist zone and in the end you realize you haven't understood a single bloody word. A worldwide phenomenon, English or Italian legal documents, it doesn't matter, they're all mumbo jumbo to me.

  • We were confused by all the legal mumbo jumbo.
  • His explanation was just a lot of mumbo jumbo.
  • It's all full of psychoanalytic mumbo jumbo.
1

I would suggest that you are looking for "drivel" as in meaningless noise:

drivel (ˈdrɪvəl) vb, -els, -elling or -elled, -els, -eling or -eled 1. to allow (saliva) to flow from the mouth; dribble 2. (intr) to speak foolishly or childishly n 3. foolish or senseless talk 4. (Physiology) saliva flowing from the mouth; slaver

From the Free Dictionary.

1

I am not exactly sure this is what you were looking for, but the first statement is not even wrong.

This states:

Not even wrong refers to any statement, argument or explanation that can be neither correct nor incorrect, because it fails to meet the criteria by which correctness and incorrectness are determined. As a more formal fallacy, it refers to the fine art of generating an ostensibly "correct" conclusion, but from premises known to be wrong or inapplicable.

  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. – David M Mar 20 '14 at 23:54
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    @DavidM please check out that link: it looks like JMU doesn't try to tell the OP that the first statement is actually correct, but the link provided shows a fallacy about certain statements, and is therefore an actual answer. Problem is clearly that the answer isn't provided but only linked, I'll propose an edit – Nanne Mar 21 '14 at 7:44
  • If this is a correct answer is of course a different thing :) – Nanne Mar 21 '14 at 7:46
  • @Nanne That is a better post. Link-only answers get tagged as low-quality and are usually tagged as not an answer on some level. I had meant to click the link-only version of those canned responses and accidentally tagged the one I did. Thanks for improving this answer. – David M Mar 21 '14 at 11:03
1

poppycock, balderdash, dribble, convolute

but the best is probably: trite

How can you listen to such poppycock? balderdash! Who wrote this dribble? Your answer is trite and meaningless.

  • If you were to give examples, or explain why your suggestions fit, it would help the OP. – Mari-Lou A Mar 19 '14 at 21:11
0

A few words come to mind: insipid, jejune, or uninspired

0

Non sequitur - a statement that is not connected in a logical or clear way to anything said before it

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/non%20sequitur

0

Yogi-isms. From Yogi Berra who uttered profound, yet inexplicable statements.

http://www.umpirebob.com/DATA/yogiisms.htm

0

I've heard this described as "argle bargle" particularly when it's angry or impassioned meaningless nonsense.

0

Inane.

Impertinent.

Extraneous.

"Scarcity has neither a fleck, nor is it a community. Discuss."

0

I like the neologism "deepity" for that kind of profound, yet meaningless truisms.

0

The correct term is "bromide" which means a commonplace or hackneyed statement or notion. The sentence in question is a malicious piece of political propaganda and was crafted to cast opprobrium on those who do not agree with the underlying thesis.

-1

"stating the obvious" where it is just generally not necessary or redundant where it is specifically repetitive

protected by RegDwigнt Mar 21 '14 at 14:47

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