A thought-terminating cliché
is a commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to quell cognitive dissonance
The term was popularized by Robert Jay Lifton in his 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.”
The thought-terminating cliché is related to the opaque pigeonhole, or closed category, which also does not permit analysis.
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.”
- Do as I say, not as I do.
- Why? Because I said so (bare assertion fallacy—also “I’m the parent, that’s why” (appeal to authority)).
- That’s a no-brainer.
- When you get to be my age...(as in “When you get to be my age you’ll find that’s not true”).
- You don’t always get what you want.
- The best defense is a good offense.
- Everyone is entitled to their own opinion (appeal to ridicule).
- It works in theory, but not in practice (base rate fallacy).
- There’s no silver bullet.
- Stupid is as stupid does.
- Life is unfair.
- Such is life.
- It is what it is.
- It was his time.
- Think about it.
- Just forget it.
- ...so, you do the math.
- 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." or "You don't just do that."
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.
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. These are especially present in religious scripture
- God has a plan and a purpose (ignoratio elenchi).
- And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; ....Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Romans 1:28, 32)
- Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!
- God works in mysterious ways.
- God gave his only begotten son for our sins
- Trust in the lord thy god...lean not on thine own understanding