A "thought-terminating cliché" (TTC) is a phrase or argument typically used to end a debate, generally by leveraging a phrase that sounds meaningful, but which is actually just a superficial means of ending discourse.
Such clichés are sometimes called "semantic stop-signs" or derided as bits of "bumper sticker logic" because they're thrown around by folks who are keen to end a line of inquiry, to not have to think about something, or to quickly score a point in an argument that doesn't seem to be going their way.
"It is what it is," for instance, puts a cap on a conversation without really bringing it to a close.
"Let's agree to disagree" is another common TTC which ends a line of thinking without requiring anyone do any thinking.
This concept was originally written about under a different name ("ultimate term") in 1953, but eventually came to be studied by researchers who wanted to understand the power religious organizations ("The Lord works in mysterious ways"), groups like Alcoholics Anonymous ("Your best thinking got you here"), and government leaders ("Support our troops") hold over their adherents and citizens.
Some such phrases are used to politely truncate discourse that might otherwise get too emotional or go off the rails. Sometimes they're used because someone doesn't want to cognitively engage with information they're receiving.
In many cases, though, TTCs are used for manipulative purposes, leveraged as substitutions for arguments or facts.
It's much easier to lob a thought-terminating cliché than to make an actual point, especially on a debate stage or at a public rally.
Leaders can also teach their followers to repeat certain phrases in response to points raised by "outsiders" like ideological or political opponents. This allows them to feel as if they've won an argument and have truth on their side, when in reality they've merely brought the conversation to a close and cut themselves off from future communications that might contradict what they're being told by their leaders.
Cults—of the literal and figurative variety—are notorious for leveraging TTCs in their messaging and rituals.
Multilevel marketing companies, online conspiracy theory-focused message boards, and lifestyle-reorienting workout groups can all reinforce their grip on their communities and followers by ensuring outside influences and arguments never seep into their followers' thinking.
The truncation of language, spreading of slogans, amplification of nonsense counterarguments, development of inner-circle shorthand, and derision of complex statements and arguments can cause folks to dismiss logic and reality in favor of rhetorical devices that've been described as mind control, because of how effectively they can influence our thinking and capacity to take in new information.
An awareness of this concept can help us identify entities that wish to manipulate us in this way, but it can also be discouraging, as it can be disappointing to learn that groups and people we respect use this approach, too.
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