Glittering Generalities

Amazing! Fantastic!

Freedom! Democracy! Power!

Glittering generalities are a form of propaganda that elicit strong emotional responses through the use of vague and hollow, though perceptually meaningful, words and phrases. Here are a few examples:


In the above examples, we have Obama’s trademark campaign slogan, “Change we can believe in,” which says a lot without saying anything.

Things go better with Coke,” while sounding warm and fuzzy, is not a substantial claim, and it leads to the questions “What things go better?” and “How does drinking Coca-Cola make things go better, anyway?”

Finally, in the video ad for Sony’s Playstation 3, we’re subjected to a short demonstration of the “smarter” cell processor (See? It can solve floating Rubik’s Cubes!), but we still don’t know exactly what’s so special about it.

Glittering generalities are fluffy and insubstantial. They sound great. They make you feel good. They mean different things to different people. But in the end they’re meaningless — the source of the generalities does not elaborate or otherwise form a logical, meaningful argument. In fact, to someone thinking logically, the generalities themselves will lead to many unanswered questions.

A glittering generality can also act like a shield that protects the source from having to commit to anything certain. Like the sort of fluff you might throw into a high school or college research paper the morning it’s due. Yeah, I’ve been there. Words and sentences that sound good but don’t mean anything, that don’t add to your argument, but rather work to “pull the wool” over your readers’ eyes.

Anyone taking a closer look or analyzing the “claims” of glittering generalities will see the fallacy in the statement. But it is the hope of the person making the generalities that the audience will be so distracted by the sparkling and glittering emotional connotations of their words and phrases that they won’t notice the logical error.

Images courtesy Jason Morrison and sneakerdog.