I'm looking for a word which converts the meaning of something such as a word, phrase or prayer which is said by rote as a form of dogma or ritual.

For example, a prayer or political phrase, which might be routinely spoken before a meeting or presentation.

Ideally, the word would convey on or more of the concepts that:

  1. The content of the phrase, while dogmatic, is considered politically incorrect or taboo to challenge within the culture in which it is used.

  2. Most people who repeat the phrase don't think about what it really means. They just do it because everyone else does it, or because they think it's "nice" or "the done thing."

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    Despite its real meaning, (phrase or verse intoned, often repetitively, as a sacred formula in Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism, designed to focus the mind) I rather think that 'mantra' has popularly fallen into the usage you describe. – Livrecache Mar 11 '18 at 0:07
  • 1
    @Livrecache You may like to suggest mantra as an answer. – Mark Micallef Mar 11 '18 at 0:42
  • is mantra an example, not the term for repeating something as if by rote? – lbf Mar 11 '18 at 0:54

From Judges 12, NKJV:

5 The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,”

6 then they would say to him, “Then say, 'Shibboleth’!” And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.

Taken from the Bible into English, the word shibboleth has evolved to mean (per the above-linked Wikipedia article):

any custom or tradition, particularly a speech pattern, that distinguishes one group of people (an ingroup) from others (outgroup).

Sort of like the EL&U tradition of posting a screenshot of a Google Ngrams search, (so once I figure out how to do that on my phone, I'll do that).


A mantra had the following definition originally:

(originally in Hinduism and Buddhism) a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.

It is now used more generally as a metaphor and simile, e.g.

A statement or slogan repeated frequently. [...]
e.g. It is made much harder by the decision of most left trade union leaders to chant the mantra of ‘reclaiming Labour’. - https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/mantra


It is spoken mindlessly:

1 : marked by a lack of mind or consciousness

a mindless sleep

(1) : marked by or displaying no use of the powers of the intellect

mindless violence

(2) : requiring little attention or thought; especially : not intellectually challenging or stimulating

mindless work
a mindless movie

2 : not mindful : heedless

mindless of the consequences
Merriam Webster

As in:

The club phrase was recited mindlessly, though few if any knew or remembered its true meaning.

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