How would I say that a phrase or word has "lost it's meaning due to constant repetition."

Take the word "awesome":
"Awesome" used to denote a situation in which the speaker (or writer) was overwhelmed with "awe." "Awesome" is now used as a measure of how "interesting" something is and isn't terribly high on that rating scale.

How would I describe the loss of meaning due to the constant repetition of the word "Awesome"?

Take George Santaya's words "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it":
People often say this phrase to try and instigate action but because of it's overuse, it no longer has any meaning. It's just something people say when they talk about The Holocaust, or the bad grades they got last semester in college.

How would I describe the loss of meaning due to the constant repetition of the phrase "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"?

  • 5
    You could say it's now cliched; unfortunately, that word is so over-used it's now cliched.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 23:05
  • The word cliched would work marvelously as one of my examples. How sad, it should mean exactly what I want, but due to its overuse, it has lost its "oomph".
    – Enigmadan
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 23:08
  • Consider also vapid or an empty platitude; unfortunately neither carries the connotation of originally having some merit.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 23:09
  • 1
    @DanBron In the 1960s the equivalent of today's awesome was fabulous. It just caught on like the craze for owning a guitar. It could refer to everything, from a hairdo, to a holiday. Remember the Fab Four? But nowadays hardly anyone uses fabulous, except me.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 23:15
  • 1
    The meaning has been diluted, watered down by overuse and inappropriate use.
    – Drew
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 5:02

5 Answers 5


Oh, I got it: hackneyed.

Still uncommon enough that it hasn't become cliched to the point of banality, resulting in an empty, vapid, platitude.


  • Good one.. +1 :))
    – user66974
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 23:13
  • 1
    "Awesome!" DanBron and @Josh thank you both very much!
    – Enigmadan
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 23:22

You're looking for "semantic satiation" (also known as semantic saturation) - A phenomenon whereby the uninterrupted repetition of a word eventually leads to a sense that the word has lost its meaning. http://grammar.about.com/od/rs/g/Semantic-Satiation.htm

Examples: "awesome", "basically", "literally", "definitely", "hectic", "terrific".

•"Have you ever tried the experiment of saying some plain word, such as 'dog,' thirty times? By the thirtieth time it has become a word like 'snark' or 'pobble.' It does not become tame, it becomes wild, by repetition." (G.K. Chesterton, "The Telegraph Poles." Alarms and Discursions, 1910)

  • 2
    This is what I first thought the asker was looking for, but then I saw the rest of his post. Upvoting anyway because this phrase is AWESOME.
    – barbecue
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 0:30

Just as a government has inflated the dollar, making it loose value over time, the same can happen to an over used expression.

This is not necessarily the case of bromides like "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". Epistemologically the problem is not in the over use, but in the lack of meaning in the expression. Remembering history has no significance, if one doesn't understand or can't conceptualize it.

The phrase didn't have a meaning to begin with. It simply is a meaningless sequence of words with the sound of a proverb.


In a similar fashion, popular brand names/trademarks sometimes get "watered-down" and eventually "genericized" from overly successful marketing and over/misuse of the name by consumers.


It's a trite phrase.

Trite is an adjective that literally describes whatever phrase or word as overused, so it has lost it's meaning.

  • 2
    Although trite and hackneyed are synonymous, trite seems to imply that the phrase being described never had any gravitas to begin with.
    – Enigmadan
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 3:10

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