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I was under the assumption that the word "platitude" implied that a statement was untrue, but according to the Cambridge online dictionary:

a remark or statement that may be true but is boring and has no meaning because it has been said so many times before

The statement "There are other fish in the sea", seems to fit this definition, but the following does not:

"We can do anything as long as we muster the resources and believe that we can achieve".

If I want to fly like a bird, and I muster all my resources and willpower, my feet will remain very firmly attached to the Earth.

Is there a word or phrase that means that an aphorism is devoid of any truth?

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    IMO a platitude does not imply untruthfulness. Your reference states: "may be true". In others words, does not have to be true. It might be, it might not be. Sep 22, 2021 at 12:22
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    The title is asking a different question. As Weather Vane says, "platitude" itself does not imply truth (according to the reference). But the final line seems to be asking for a similar word that actually implies lack of truth rather than just allowing for it. Suggest you edit the title if that's what you're after.
    – Rupe
    Sep 22, 2021 at 12:35
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    Something like nonsense, hokum, baloney, bullshit? Or something more specific? "We can do anything as long as we muster the resources and believe that we can achieve" isn't a cliche or an aphorism (which implies a memorable form of words) or a folksy saying like fish-in-the-sea; it's more like new age woo or management bullshit depending on who says it.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 22, 2021 at 13:17
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    Clearly you just don’t have enough resources. :-)
    – Jim
    Sep 22, 2021 at 16:15
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    Luckily, that's not always true. Sometimes we use words literally, sometimes we use them figuratively, or for effect, or other rhetorical devices. And we generally have little trouble distinguishing the context.
    – Barmar
    Sep 24, 2021 at 17:14

5 Answers 5

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Your title asks for a word that does not imply truth, but the body of the question seems to be asking for something that implies untruth. Words such as "platitude" and "aphorism" don't necessarily imply truth. If you want something that implies untruth, there's "hokum", although that doesn't have as much of an implication of being a cliche. You can combine "hokum" with other words to more strongly give that implication, such as "trite hokum", "cliched hokum", etc.

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  • +1 for combining ‘hokum’ with ‘trite’, as this seems to me to be the best phrase offered as yet in expositing what that’s requested (a word or phrase meaning "an aphorism devoid of any truth"). Without the explicit requirement for anti_truth (i.e. bogus, even within intended limits of interpretation) but instead merely non-verified_truth (i.e. possibly but not necessarily altogether bogus, within_any if not depending_upon_the reasonable interpretation), I believe that the response for opting still for "platitude" (as answered by @Barmar) would be optimal in general use.
    – 11qq00
    Sep 24, 2021 at 0:34
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A bromide or cliché is a familiar saying (which also works) that might or might not be true. Bromide connotes that it’s annoyingly moralistic, cliché that it’s overused, and saying is more neutral.

If it’s not a well-known saying, it might still be a banality, as well as trite, insipid and prosaic. These all connote that it’s uninspiring and boring, but not necessarily wrong.

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platitude is still OK. Lexico defines it as

A remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.
*‘he masks his disdain for her with platitudes about how she should believe in herself more’

This doesn't imply that the statement should be true; it could be either true or false, or it might not even be possible to judge its truth. What your definition is saying is that it doesn't matter whether it's true or not, it has become such a cliche that people don't really analyze its truthfulness.

And that's a good description of your examples.

In addition, you should realize that "do anything" is not intended to be taken literally, so it's unfair to say that it's false because you can't violate physical laws. But if you change it to something like "do anything that's possible" it's a tautology, since "possible" can be interpreted as what you can do. What's actually intended is "go beyond our current perceived limits". It's not meant as an observation, but as an aspiratioal or encouraging statement.

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The example

We can do anything as long as we muster the resources and believe that we can achieve.

isn't "devoid of any truth" – within limits it is a quite reasonable mission statement.

The next example is similar to

If I want to fly like a bird, I need to muster all my resources and willpower.

but it isn't a saying or idiom, it is just absurd or an absurdity. Lexico has

absurd
ADJECTIVE

1 Wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.
That is the sort of absurd nonsense that has been driving the other side of the debate.

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    "Anything" by definition rejects limits. Sep 22, 2021 at 16:07
  • @Acccumulation but it is not "devoid of any truth". In a context or frame of reference, for example a bespoke travel guide's slogan, it is a quite reasonable exhortation. Sep 22, 2021 at 16:13
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    It's not true that one can do anything. Sep 22, 2021 at 16:15
  • @Acccumulation but it is qualified anyway: with "as long as we muster the resources". It is not devoid of any truth. But if you like, you can call that statement of OP an absurdity too, if you wish. Sep 22, 2021 at 16:17
  • That qualifies the "can", but not the "anything". If I say "All X are Y", and some X aren't Y, then it's not true. You seem to be saying that if some X are Y, then it's not "devoid" of truth, which is a rather vague statement. Sep 22, 2021 at 16:20
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If by "Is there a word or phrase that means that an aphorism is devoid of any truth?" you mean that it lacks any useful content or substantial meaning, an adjective that sums up such platitudes or oversimplifications is

anodyne (adj.)

Not likely to offend or arouse tensions : INNOCUOUS m-w

innocuous - Not likely to give offense or to arouse strong feelings or hostility : INOFFENSIVE, INSIPID m-w

If you describe something as anodyne, you are criticizing it because it has no strong characteristics and is not likely to excite, interest, or upset anyone. Collins


If Odes 2.10 exemplifies mediocritas, then it, too, is what it is by reference to what it is not. In other words, it is "merely" a poetical play, the proliferation of anodyne aphorisms, and something like pure poetry of the kind that West, and Santirocco also, suggest. As a result, as Syme suspected, it proves nothing at all. P. Mitsis and I. Ziogas; Wordplay and Powerplay in Latin Poetry

Although the aphorism is conventionally thought to express 'a bold approach to some truth', as John Stuart mill put it ..., a more recent practitioner of the modern form, Karl Kraus, questions the category of truth altogether: 'An aphorism need not be true, but it should surpass the truth. It must go beyond it with one leap'... The danger of this formal property is that it tends toward the fostering of a programmatic flippancy. As Wolf observes, 'the ultimate extreme of Byron's quirkiness might be the anodyne soundbite of celebrity culture... K. Boyiopoulos and M. Shallcross; "Like a Burr: Aphoristic Writing and Modernity" in Aphoristic Modernity p.13

This urbanism is the background for his discussion of mayor Frank Rice, a rather visionless and limited figure who appeared in public armed with anodyne aphorisms. Yet he was a successful mayor. Harvard Design Magazine, Issues 19-21, p. 98

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