Although it might be argued that one person's platitude is another's proverb, what sets the two apart is that the proverb appears to be words of wisdom, while the platitude concisely demonstrates a profoundly irrational worldview.
An example of each shows the difference between the two:
- Platitude: A penny saved is a penny earned.
- Proverb: You can't take it with you.
Most platitudes are meant to encourage a person emotionally or alleged to provide profound insight into some situation. However, because platitudes are simplistic, empty, inane, pointless, inconsequential, and insignificant statements, they tend to be annoying to nitpickers who insist that statements have some rational basis.
Platitudes are frequently taken as insults to one's intelligence as well, because they are clearly simple-minded perspectives applied to otherwise serious, even catastrophic situations. Platitudes are always inappropriate and shallow, but under particular circumstances are downright offensive. For example, telling a parent whose child is dying of cancer that the death is necessarily in accordance with "the will of God" is not exactly comforting or rational. Indeed, rather than comforting, such a comment may cause the grieving parent to act out antisocially toward the idiot who spouts such a platitude (or question their god's judgment, which could lead to other sorts of instability).
Albert Speer claimed that the Third Reich was built on platitudes, and he would have known.
People who have applied themselves, working hard to accomplish a goal that is important to them, may not appreciate some well-meaning fool's suggestion that "hard work brings success" since it implies that people who don't succeed are lazy. Such individuals may not appreciate hearing platitudes such as "nothing succeeds like success," and "you create your destiny," because such statements imply that the opposite is true also: "nothing fails like failure," and "you have really screwed up your life."
Dealing with platitudesEdit
Over the centuries, people tired of being insulted by unreasoning idiots who deliver platitudes as if they were boxes of chocolate, bouquets of roses, or flasks of whiskey, have come up with several ways of dealing with unsolicited platitudes:
Many people, when confronted with a platitude, tend to ignore it, period. They regard a platitude for what it is (a vacuous statement, an irrelevant tangent, a meaningless observation) and likewise the person who emitted it. They know it is probably futile to address the assault on their intelligence, so they just ignore the platitude and the person who delivered it.
Given that platitudes are about as believable as saying that Madonna is beautiful or that Adolph Hitler had a conscience, such people conclude that any apparent insight or solace a platitude may have been issued to elicit is not forthcoming.
(Perhaps a better solution is to reply with a platitude of one's own, one that means the opposite of the platitude encountered. For example, if a platitude-monger offers, "life is what you make it," the response, "whatever will be, will be" is an appropriate rejoinder. Likewise, if the offender emits, "every cloud has a silver lining," a good reply might be, "whatever can go wrong will probably go wrong.")
Agreeing with platitudesEdit
Another way to deal with platitudes is to agree with the person who delivers such nonsense; in doing so, always add an exclamation point to your tone to show how fervently you concur. For example, if some fool says, "Hard work brings success," one can reply with, "Whistle while you work!" If the attack continues with something like, "Life is what you make it," one can reply with, "If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade!"
But how many of these platitudes can you really agree with?
• Death is only the beginning.
• Every dog has its day.
• Every good deed has its reward.
• Everything always works out in the end.
• Failure is not an option.
• It builds character.
• It was meant to be.
• It wasn’t meant to be.
• No good deed goes unpunished.
• Nothing is impossible.
• Time heals all wounds.
The comic actor W. C. Fields demonstrated a third way of contending with platitudes and the pains in the ass who deliver them: recite them back, but with a twist. If a dolt says, "There comes a time in the affairs of man when he must take the bull by the horns and face the situation," Fields would repeat, "I’ll make sure I remember those words of wisdom: There comes a time in the affairs of man when he must take the bull by the tail and face the situation."