What single word or short phrase could be used to say something like:

I was given just a formal reply without any useful information to my letter to the government officials?

  • The {government/ministry/department/whatever} has just acknowledged receiving my letter. Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 0:00
  • It is a vague response, a reply of little interest or evading the issue.
    – Graffito
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 0:19
  • "They gave me the brush off". As if your letter was a piece of lint on a suit, to be casually brushed off and dismissed. Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 8:15

8 Answers 8


Reading through the line, I can't help notice the negative feeling towards such useless response. I feel although all given answers are 100% correct, they all failed to convey such negative feeling. In this case, I think the best answer is, bureaucratic,

I was given just a bureaucratic response to my letter to the government officials.

  • You are good at reading through the lines, thanks. Although all other answers are also correct, you've hit the bull's-eye.
    – catemperor
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 19:34

You might call it a canned response, where can is a reference to mass-produced products delivered in tin cans - there is no customisation of its (standard) content once the can is sealed.

The sender might have several canned responses to choose from, but each canned response is a standard reply that isn't tailored to any circumstances.

Canned responses could potentially carry useful information - they are just standardised. If you want to stress the absence of specific information, you might call it a generic reply (see definition 1b: "lacking specificity"). If you want to go further and stress the lack of useful information, I suppose you could call it a useless reply. A jaded cynic might say they just received the party line.


Perfunctory Response

performed merely as a routine duty; hasty and superficial:

-- dictionary.com

In this case, "My letter received a perfunctory response" would mean that it was clearly someone's job to respond to your letter, so they did, but they didn't have to include any useful information in their response, so they didn't.


Oftentimes what American congresspeople send back to constituents who write to them is called a form letter, which was actually written before hand to use as a generic reply to letters. Also something you might receive from a celebrity if you write them a fan letter.


legalese, gobbledegook, obfuscation

legalese, from Wikipedia, Legal English (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_English)

The term legalese.....is a pejorative term associated with a traditional style of legal writing that is part of [the] specialized discourse of lawyers: communication that "lay readers cannot readily comprehend

Use in Sentence: I got a reply from the agency, but it was in legalese; I need it translated into English!

gobbledegook, from Dictionary.com ( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gobbledegook) and

"Language characterized by circumlocution and jargon, unusually hard to understand. Ex: The gobbledegook of government reports"

Obfuscate, from The Free Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/obfuscatory)

To make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand: "A great effort was made ... to obscure or obfuscate the truth" (Robert Conquest).

Example: I received a reply from the agency, but it was pure obfuscation; even my lawyer was confused.

Earler, I proposed boilerplate, but the OP suggested something specifically written to avoid the question. See comments under this answer.

  • How about some something with negative connotations or more informal?
    – catemperor
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 23:36
  • @contemplator I'll think about it, but boilerplate does have negative connotations. Are you thinking along the lines of "I got a letter from OPM -- the usual blah, blah, blah"? Or less informal than that?
    – ab2
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 23:38
  • I think less informal. Also what if the reply was not boilerplate in the sense of prewritten form, but specifically written to avoid the question?
    – catemperor
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 23:45

If the government is notorious of giving the useless responses, then you can say:

I was given just a routine response to my letter to the government officials.


I was given just a trademark response to my letter to the government officials.


Consider ready-made answer, i.e. available immediately, not needing to be specially created or devised.

Example: If the Minister of Justice keeps making evasive, ready-made answers to serious questions about the legislation, the public will only grow more concerned about these subjects.


Perhaps a pro forma reply?

The term pro forma (Latin for “as a matter of form” or “for the sake of form”) is most often used to describe a practice or document that is provided as a courtesy and/or satisfies minimum requirements, conforms to a norm or doctrine, tends to be performed perfunctorily and/or is considered a formality.
        — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

done or existing as something that is usual or required but that has little true meaning or importance
        — Merriam-Webster

Done as a formality; perfunctory.
        — The Free Dictionary

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