Thought Terminating Cliches

I recently stumbled on this article describing and listing Thought-terminating cliches, and they make excellent short phrases to translate into E-prime, or discuss the nature of transactionally invalid statements.  According to my source, this article got removed from Wikipedia, where it originated.

Please join me to discuss: Seeing through cliche with E-prime.

Thought-terminating cliché

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A thought-terminating cliché is a commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to propagate cognitive dissonance (discomfort experienced when one simultaneously holds two or more conflicting cognitions, e.g. ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions). Though the phrase in and of itself may be valid in certain contexts, its application as a means of dismissing dissent or justifying fallacious logic is what makes it thought-terminating.

The term was popularized by Robert Jay Lifton in his 1956 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Lifton said, “The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.” [1][2]

In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the fictional constructed language Newspeak is designed to reduce language entirely to a set of thought-terminating clichés. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World society uses thought-terminating clichés in a more conventional manner, most notably in regard to the drug soma as well as modified versions of real-life platitudes, such as, “A doctor a day keeps the jim-jams away.”

Non-political examples

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “Don’t judge.”
  • “Why? Because I said so.” (Bare assertion fallacy)
  • “I’m the parent, that’s why.” (Appeal to authority).
  • “When you get to be my age you’ll find that’s not true.”
  • “You don’t always get what you want.”
  • “You win some, you lose some.”
  • “Ah well, swings and roundabouts.”
  • “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.” (Appeal to ridicule if said sarcastically)
  • “It works in theory, but not in practice.” (Base rate fallacy)
  • “It’s just common sense.”
  • “It makes sense to me, and that’s all that matters.”
  • “To each his own.”
  • “Life is unfair.”
  • “Such is life.”
  • “We already had this conversation.”
  • “It is what it is.”
  • “It was his time.”
  • “Whatever.”
  • “There you go again.”
  • “It’s not worth discussing.”
  • “Whatever will be, will be.”
  • “Be a man and…”
  • “Who cares?”
  • “It’s a matter of opinion!”
  • “You only live once.” (YOLO)
  • “Just forget it.”
  • “We will have to agree to disagree.”
  • “We all have to do things we don’t like.”
  • “You are not being a ‘team player’.” (Ignoratio elenchi)
  • “That’s just wrong.”
  • “You just don’t do that.”
  • “Just do it.”
  • “Link or it didn’t happen.”
  • “Don’t be that guy.”
  • “Because that is our policy.”
  • “Don’t be silly.”
  • “There’s no smoke without fire.” (used to convince others that a person is guilty based on accusation or hearsay and to discourage further examination of evidence)
  • “I’m just sayin’.”
  • “So it goes.”
  • “Me thinks thou dost protest too much.” or “The more you argue, the less we believe you.”
  • “Rules are rules.”
  • “Who do you think you are?”/”Who are you to…”
  • “It’s all relative.”
  • “People are going to do what they want.”
  • “That’s just your feelings.”
  • “Can’t everybody just drop it and get along?” (used as an attempt to stop an ongoing debate or argument)
  • “It’s the way of the road.”

Political examples

Thought-terminating clichés are sometimes used during political discourse to enhance appeal or to shut down debate. In this setting, their usage can usually be classified as a logical fallacy.[citation needed]

Religious examples

Thought-terminating clichés are also present in religious discourse in order to define a clear border between good and evil, holiness and sacrilege, and other polar opposites.[citation needed] These are especially present in religious literature.[citation needed]

  • “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” Job 1:21
  • Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” (opposing same-sex marriage)
  • “That’s not Biblical.”
  • “God moves/works in mysterious ways.”
  • “God never gives you more suffering than you can bear.”
  • “Only God can judge.”
  • “God has a plan.”
  • “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

The religious or semi-religious ideas of cults, heretics, and infidels are also often used as thought-terminating clichés, e.g. “Do not listen to him, he is an infidel,” (a guilt by association fallacy) or “That line of thought sounds like a cult” (also a guilt by association fallacy).

As an autological phrase

The statement “that is a thought-terminating cliché” can itself function as a thought-terminating cliché. Once the stator has identified a first statement as a thought-terminating cliché, they may feel absolved of needing to determine whether that first statement is indeed a thought-terminating cliché, or provides useful insight, in the context under discussion.

See also


  1. ^ Lifton, Robert J. (1989). Thought reform and the psychology of totalism: A study of brainwashing in China. UNC Press. p. 429. ISBN 9780807842539.
  2. ^ The Watchman Expositor: The use of Mind Control in Religious Cults (Part Two)