Platitudes Spoken Here

"I mean, I'm just trying to, you know, do whatever I can to help the ballclub..."

Language enables us to communicate thoughts, but it is used for that purpose only occasionally.  A lot of the time, what is spoken (or written) is pretty much devoid of original content; what gets conveyed instead are platitudes.  I’ll admit it —  at times I’ve been guilty of speaking in platitudes, those remarks that are supposed to be profound, but when examined are really just empty words.  They may have had some value a while ago, but have long since passed their expiration date for freshness — and they’re everywhere.  Can I get an “amen”?  See, there’s one now.

  You’ve probably noticed that politicians and their interpreters are only capable of speaking Platitude, at least in public.  They rely solely on a vocabulary that includes phrases about ideals and fiscal responsibility and job growth and tough decisions.  When facts need to be found, they vow to leave no stone unturned.  They insist that they will never compromise their principles, which some of us suspect is part of the problem.

Businessmen exhort their employees to strive for success (in selling things like acne remedies or carpet cleaning), noting that “failure is not an option”.  What does that mean?  An option, by definition, is a choice.  Are they implying that their workers view failure as one of several attractive choices?

Personal failure or disappointment is sometimes attributed to the platitude “it wasn’t meant to be”; that may contradict the frequently expressed view that “it is what it is”.

Platitude is the universal language of sports.  Stick a microphone in an athlete’s face, and between the “I means” and “you knows”, he’ll serve up a big helping of dull, trite phrases about the great team effort and how they’re “going good” and “just have to keep it going”.  Do these interviews serve any purpose?

Does the sideline reporter really expect to get a candid answer from the football coach leaving the field at halftime when she asks him, “You’re down by seventeen points, Coach.  What adjustments will you make in the second half?” 

The truthful answer is “Hell if I know.  My mother was right — I should have become a dentist.”  Instead, he’ll mutter platitudes about his quarterback needing to “play within himself”, or “we have to do a better job of controlling the tempo.”  Did we gain any insight from that?

Experts who analyze basketball games will inevitably inform us that one team or the other “really came to play today”.  Ah, so that’s it.  Judging from their uniforms, I had mistakenly assumed that the team had come to participate in a seminar on the development of the steam engine and its role in the Industrial Revolution.  Incidentally, since these guys are paid enormous sums of money to participate in games, shouldn’t they “come to play” every time?  Or are we supposed to draw the inference that some teams only come to play on, say, dates divisible by the number three?

Well, maybe all my complaints about platitudes sound a little harsh, but when I sit down at the keyboard, you know what?  I bring my A game and give it 110%.  After all, failure is not an option.

9 responses to “Platitudes Spoken Here

  1. This post was right on the money.

  2. Thanks, Jen. When I got the idea for this post, I said to myself, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Just do it. Winners never quit, quitters never win.” Then I had another cup of coffee and finished reading the newspaper.

  3. I just got finished with your blog and loved it! I even got a hugh laugh over your reply of 1-25-11……….. hehehe!

  4. Many years ago a chap named Clem Smoot and I decided to dispense with such platitudes as Hello, how are you, what’s new, had a great time, see you later. It didn’t work. When the moment came that one of those was expected, we found ourselves groping and flailing. We had to admit we needed the blasted things. Paucity of original thinking, I guess.

    • Steve,
      My long-lost Godfather was named Clem Smoot. We lived in Seattle. Can you tell me anything about your Clem Smoot?


      • Steve mentioned above that it was many years ago when he and Clem Smoot decided to dispense with platitudes. He told me yesterday that the last time he saw Clem was back in the 1930s, so it was MANY years ago.

        They knew each other in Los Angeles. Steve wasn’t aware of any connection Clem may have had to Seattle; and it’s his assumption that the Clem Smoot he knew is probably deceased by now.

        This all suggests that there have been multiple Clem Smoots, as improbable as that might seem. In other words, the one you know (knew) is very likely not the same one Steve knew. Sorry we can’t be more helpful, but I appreciate your visit here. Thanks!

  5. It’s true that without those gap fillers we’d sound like we were on walkie-talkies: “I have entered the room, over.” “Copy that. Sit down. Over.” Knowing you, though, I’m sure it wasn’t long before you and Clem got into conversations with substance. By the way, I don’t know if you ever discussed it with your friend, but W.C. Fields would have loved the name Clem Smoot.

  6. Tom, I hate to say it, but this story lacked momentum. Bill

    • I can’t take all the credit, Bill; here at Tom Reeder’s blog it’s a team effort and as you know, there’s no “I” in “team”. Or in “Tom”, either.

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