30

Consider the statement "I like to have fun" or "I like to spend time with my friends".

These border on tautologies though I don't think they would be considered as such by most. Although these statements purport meaning, the are in fact devoid of it.

For example, "fun" is by definition something people like to do, so to say "I like to have fun" is redundant. Similarly, "friends" are people that you like to hang out with, so to say "I like to spend time with my friends" is again redundant.

To me, these statements are empty of meaning but don't quite fully fall under the category of something that is trite or vapid. The fact that their opposites, "I don't like to have fun" or "I don't like to spend time with my friends" would rarely, if ever, be in circulation (except in some pathological cases), begs for a term that reaches beyond the concept of a "empty" or "unoriginal" idea and captures this implication I describe above about its opposite.

Personal ads such as online dating profiles are replete with these phrases. I can't help but feel that there's a specific word to describe them.

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    "Self-evident statements"? Shallow? Empty of meaning? Devoid ot deep meaning? Vacuous? Blank? Hmm.. A truism? A cliche? – CowperKettle Jan 19 '15 at 19:07
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    When politicians use such expressions (e.g. the public should be free to choose; my priority is the interest of my constituents; etc) they are often said 'to be advocating motherhood and apple pie' i.e. things with which no one could possibly disagree. – WS2 Jan 19 '15 at 19:17
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    It goes without saying -- yet they say it anyway. – Barmar Jan 19 '15 at 19:20
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    I say go with all three that you mentioned: tautology, trite, and vapid. Plus (@CopperKettle) shallow, vacuous, truism, cliche. I think the only proper response to one of these statements you mentioned is "Oh, really? Do you? Do you, Frank? THANK YOU FOR SHARING THAT." – idunno Jan 19 '15 at 19:47
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    A note on the meaning of these phrases: someone saying "I like to have fun" does send a message. The meaning in this case would actually be someting like "I think it is important to have fun" rather than "Having fun is something that I like, rather than dislike" – Dennis Jaheruddin Jan 20 '15 at 17:16

12 Answers 12

35

Such statements are platitudes.

From Wikipedia:

A platitude is a trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, generally directed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease. The word derives from plat, French word for "flat." Platitudes are geared towards presenting a shallow, unifying wisdom over a difficult topic. However, they are too overused and general to be anything more than undirected statements with ultimately little meaningful contribution towards a solution.

Examples could be statements such as "Meet in the middle", "Everybody has a right to an opinion", "Everything happens for a reason", "It is what it is", "Do what you can", "Just be yourself", "God works in mysterious ways" and "Nobody's perfect".

Platitudes are generally a form of thought-terminating cliché.

  • 1
    This is the most excellent descriptive term in my opinion, and offers the real balance to my optimistic analysis of the OP. I suspect the romantics will flock to axiom, while the conventional favor platitude. Who can tell where the misanthropes will land? – ScotM Jan 20 '15 at 16:12
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    @ScotM "Only time will tell." :-) – Mark Meuer Jan 20 '15 at 17:16
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    @Mark Meuer Surreallistically self-referential. Cleesian. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 20 '15 at 21:55
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    @ScotM - actually, speaking romantically (blush), I find both of your answers irresistible. – user98990 Jan 21 '15 at 0:45
  • It is what it is. – Aaron Hall Jan 22 '15 at 14:31
31

"I like to have fun"

"I like to spend time with my friends"

The cynical sneers of misanthropes notwithstanding, these statements are emotional or relational axioms:

NOUN

1.0 A statement or proposition which is regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true:

These are normative statements made for the sake of normal people confirming that we are just like them and all of their other friends. Undeterred by scorn and ridicule, we insist on saying these things, because the etymology of axiom implies they are worth saying:

late 15c., from Middle French axiome,

from Latin axioma,

from Greek axioma "authority," literally "that which is thought worthy or fit,"

from axioun "to think worthy,"

from axios "worthy, worth, of like value, weighing as much,"

from PIE adjective **ag-ty-o-* "weighty,"

from root **ag*- "to drive, draw, move" (see act (n.)).

Axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they are proved upon our pulses. [Keats, letter, May 3, 1818]

Axiomatic statements, like I love my wife, are worth saying even if they are self-evident, because they drive us, draw us, and move us toward a deeper experience of the self-evident truth they express. At minimum, as the OP implies, these emotional and relational axioms normalize our sane interaction with the people around us. The meaning is not on the face of the words, but in the heart of the implication:

I am normal:

  • I like to have fun!

I'm just like you and all of your other friends:

  • I like to spend time with my friends!

I'm not a grumpy old man yet:

  • I (still) like to have fun!
  • I (still) like to spend time with my friends!
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    Would that I had more than one upvote. – anongoodnurse Jan 19 '15 at 19:54
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    As a mathematician (hence, a person who deals with axioms a lot) I would find it quite counter-intuitive to call such phrases axioms. Axioms are usually meant to give foundations for some further argument. It makes sense to open with the axiom "I like to spend time with my friends" and continue with "I don't like to spend time with John. Therefore, John is not my friend". It makes less sense to continue with a list of other things that you like. – Jakub Konieczny Jan 20 '15 at 15:17
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    I am a romantic. Let the cynics sneer! – Good A.M. Jan 21 '15 at 16:25
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    The cynics have overtaken us: Rise and shine, you romantics! – ScotM Jan 21 '15 at 17:45
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    I wouldn't really call myself a romantic. I just think it's important to list why people say things and the meaning they intend by them. The "cynical" answer only gives one possible meaning, while this gives several, and alludes to the idea that there are more, rather than simply attempting the very "thought-terminating cliche" it decries by using the term as the only purpose of such statements. – trlkly Jan 22 '15 at 9:33
23

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) has this entry for the noun truism:

truism n (1708) an undoubted or self-evident truth; esp : one too obvious for mention —truistic adj.

Truisms are neither controversial nor especially interesting to discuss at length, and they tend not to have meaningful negatives. Indeed, the word truism itself doesn't have an obvious negative (certainly not falsism). So the adjective truistic may be a good descriptive term for the statements you are talking about, and the noun truisms may be a good single word for such statements.

7

I would go for trivial. This is often used in mathematics and philosophy to describe statements which can be proved with minimal effort. It also expresses the idea that the statement is obvious or uninteresting.

5

In Analytic Philosophy there are statements that don't have useful or meaningful negatives. For example, consider the statement

"Some tame tigers exist"

Which is understandable and possibly useful.

However, the negative

"Some tame tigers don't exist. "

doesn't seem to have a possible interpretation. Most interpretations of the later sentence are using quite different meanings of "exist" than in the first statement.

These statements are very different from

"Some tame tigers growl."

Because

"Some tame tigers don't growl" makes perfect sense.

For a more complete discussion on these types of sentences see: "Is Existence a Predicate" by G.E. Moore, originally published in 1936 but reprinted several times.

In his essay, Mr Moore calls the sentence "queer" but otherwise they are not formally named.

  • 1
    This seems to only fit the question when the predicate is exist (since some is an existential quantifier; your second sentence can be rephrased as "There exists a tame tiger such that it does not exist", which is self-contradictory). But the question is explicitly asking about examples which deal with other predicates. – WinnieNicklaus Jan 20 '15 at 4:55
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    This answer seems to add value to the discussion by evaluating a philosophical premise of the OP's argument. The "negative" of a statement does not necessarily offer insight into the value of that statement. – ScotM Jan 20 '15 at 16:18
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    The negative of some tigers are tame is no tiger is tame, which is possibly useful. – Martin Krzywinski Jan 20 '15 at 19:19
5

I apologise if this is not a direct answer, however I would question the premise of this question. I do not believe that either of these statements are actually devoid of meaning, as particularly in the case of something such as a dating profile, the fact these things are mentioned at all conveys a meaning.

For example, if someone were to state "I like to have fun." Though this holds little meaning at face value it does give us implied information. For example fun implies relatively unstructured activities done purely for the purpose of entertainment, a non absurd inverse may be for example "I enjoy spending my time doing structured work." and in the case of "I like to spend time with my friends." an inverse could be "I enjoy peaceful seclusion." Admittedly neither of these opposite statements would likely be very helpful to someone on a dating site.

Another point is that given the limited size of a Personal ad, it shows these things are particularly important to someone, saying that you enjoy being with your friends in the context of being asked the most important things in your life does convey a lot of meaning, it shows you prioritise this over other things so we can assume that by putting this statement presumably at the exclusion of the mention of some other interest the writer is emphasizing the particular importance of time with friends over other possible interests or hobbies.

In short I would not be too fast to condemn such statements as without meaning without trying to first understand the context in which they were written.

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    This appears to be a post about the question rather than an answer to the question. – Andrew Leach Jan 21 '15 at 6:56
  • This post may be in the wrong place but I think it would be a valid comment on the question or the answer by @Edwin Ashworth. The examples given in the question may be bad examples of vacuous platitudes if they actually discriminate a party animal from someone who only has internet friends. – Cat812 Jan 21 '15 at 12:42
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    @AndrewLeach I entirely understand what you are saying. However I do feel that I answer the question, albeit obliquely. I am trying to say that the premise of the question in itself is flawed and that the property suggested to exist in fact does not and therefore will not have a name. That should be a valid answer in my mind. I entirely respect that you may disagree with what I am saying but I do feel it is an answer, even if it is felt to be an incorrect one. I also understand that I may get down-votes if others think I am wrong but I do not believe this should be deleted as not an answer. – Vality Jan 22 '15 at 0:06
4

Based on your example of online dating profiles being replete with such statements, the intent, clearly is to find a disparaging term for this sort of statement.

Such writing can be regarded as banal, vapid and inspid.

A "geek speak" neologism exists which applies, namely the term content-free, which is a pun on context-free. The statement "I like to have fun, and hate to be bored" is a perfect example of something that is content-free: it doesn't convey information.

  • It would be difficult to motivate the need to find a complimentary term for this kind of usage. However, I was thinking that the term could be at best neutral, something captured by the above suggestion of axiomatic. I do like content-free too, it's more cheeky. I wonder whether my examples are a subset of content-free phrases, or whether all content-free phrases fit the scheme that their negative is senseless. – Martin Krzywinski Jan 20 '15 at 1:23
  • "I hate to be bored" does arguably convey information - obviously nobody enjoys being bored (other than maybe that one guy in a recent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal), but some people merely don't enjoy it, while some actively hate it, and someone uttering that would more likely be the latter. – neminem Jan 20 '15 at 17:09
  • @neminem That may be all so, but OP seems to be looking for words which express a speaker's opinion that something of that sort doesn't convey information; he's not asking for comments on whether that opinion is true or not of particular examples. – Kaz Jan 20 '15 at 19:59
3

Tangential observation

The "opposite" of "I like to spend time with my friends," might be "I like to spend time alone," which is certainly true for many healthy people. Nevertheless, I like your question because I also think it is absurd when people describe themselves with "I like to have fun" or "I am fun loving."

Potential words

  1. I agree that trite does not seem to fit, but I am not sure why you are rejecting vapid. As a synonym for insipid (lacking flavor), I feel that vapid is even more visceral because vapid conjures an image of vapor.
  2. Vacuous statement
  3. The statement is obvious
  4. The speaker lacks self-awareness
  5. The speaker lacks the ability to discriminate his/her characteristics from those of other people, so maybe the speaker is oblivious
  6. Facepalm
  7. Duh. (A potential corollary to "Ask a stupid question and you will get a stupid answer" might be "Say something lame and you will get a lame response.")
  8. Filler, as in the statement is only there to fill space because the writer could not think of anything more interesting to write.
  9. Maybe we need to coin a new term. Just as MySpace Angles is useful, maybe "dating boilerplate" (from boilerplate text) could describe all of the meaningless phrases that do not differentiate one person from another on dating websites.
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    Funny you should mention. My neologism for this is inconversible. I distinguish a more specific case, culturally inconversible -- statements of this kind whose negative would never be uttered but only within a specific culture. – Martin Krzywinski Jan 19 '15 at 22:58
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    In a normal conversation, the statements of the OP would actually reflect a normative self-awareness. You might correctly contend that they don't display deep self-awareness, but since so much of our relational interaction is intentionally limited to a surface level, it seems that the statements would be described more accurately as lacking self-revelation. – ScotM Jan 20 '15 at 16:26
3

I might describe this type of statement as a no-brainer, although the description is more often given to decisions or choices than statements.

Wiktionary describes no-brainer as:

An easy or obvious conclusion, decision, solution, task, etc.; something requiring little or no thought.

  • Cheeky. no-brainer describing both the effort required on part of the listener as well as degree of sophistication on part of the speaker. – Martin Krzywinski Jan 20 '15 at 19:21
1
  1. Inane

  2. Trivial

  3. Superfluous

"Personal ads such as online dating profiles are replete with these [inane/superfluous] phrases."

0

Tautology is the word you are looking for. It specifically addresses the situation of a sentence that simply can’t be false because the predicate, by definition, is true of the subject.

For example, “the widow’s spouse had died” is tautological because the information contained in the predicate is implicitly included in the subject.


Vacuous could work in some circumstances as well. In mathematics and logic, a vacuous statement is one that is technically true (according to some interpretations), but does not apply to any objects. For example, saying “all odd numbers divisible by 2 are prime” could be considered true – but there are 0 numbers that it applies to, because all odd numbers are not divisible by 2.

-2

vague is the right answer i think so.

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    Welcome to English Language & Usage @MS. Here are two suggestions on writing strong answers. Firstly, check out the help center. Secondly, answers that cite some external authority are usually stronger; in this case a dictionary could support your answer, and make it stronger than just your opinion. Enjoy :-) – andy256 Jan 20 '15 at 23:51
  • Why is that? Please give an explanation for your choice. – Matt E. Эллен Jan 21 '15 at 10:17

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