Thought-terminating Clichés: Definition and Examples

thought terminating cliche

Thought-terminating clichés, or thought-ending clichés are also known as semantic stop-signs or thought-stoppers. bumper sticker logic. They’re a type of banality, clichéd thinking or truism.

I was watching a TikTok Live convo between two A+ smartypantses today, @PortiaNoir and @whitewomanwhis1, and they introduced me to an incredibly useful concept: “thought-ending cliches.”

These are statements like “they’re just jealous” or “he hits you because he likes you” or “it’s natural to be curious” (my trans addition to their list) that end a conversation before it can get into unpacking oppressive behaviours, while also minimizing or excusing them.

It’s such a clear and evocative way to describe that thing, which pre-empt anyone saying something that might make the person who did harm uncomfortable, thereby continuing to center the feelings of the person who engaged in oppressive behavior rather than the person who was harmed. I found it such a useful concept I wanted to share it, and thank them.



  • It is what it is. Whatcha gonna do? That’s life.
  • Boys will be boys. That’s wo/men for you. That’s wives for you.
  • No regrets.
  • They’re all the same. [Said about politicians as a reason for not voting]
  • You can only do your best.
  • If you know, you know.
  • Everything happens for a reason. The universe delivers. It’s God’s plan.
  • Everything gives you cancer. [Said by smokers.]
  • Everyone’s Autistic/ADHD/transgender these days.
  • Nobody wants to work anymore.
  • There’s no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism.
  • The world’s on a collision course anyway. Might as well enjoy it.
  • It’s a numbers game.

Callie Sorensen also talks about the problem with thought-terminating cliches in a TikTok explainer. Another is Dr Paul Psychology, who points out the cultural importance of such clichés.

When I lived in Japan studying Japanese I noticed how many thought-limiting cliches there are, though I had no idea what they were called at the time. Of particular frequency:

  • 頑張って
  • しょうがない or 仕方がない
  • 大変ね
  • 可哀想

The Japanese phrase shikata ga nai, or “it can’t be helped,” indicates cultural norms over which one has little control… This notion of suffering in part stems from shikata ga nai: failing to follow cultural norms and social conventions led to a life of little choice but endurance of suffering.

 Asian American Women: The “Frontiers” Reader by Debbie Storrs

The reality is, thought-terminating clichés make you more likeable and agreeable. You can’t be a Feminist Killjoy (like Sara Ahmed) if you go straight to the thought-terminating cliché when things get uncomfortable.


These phrases have a very real function for the speakers involved: They reduce cognitive dissonance, which we find uncomfortable.

Thought terminating clichés are a problem because:

  • They shut down critical thinking
  • Complex situations become over-simplified
  • They prevent further discussion without addressing underlying issues
  • and allow us to avoid challenging the status quo, leading to social stagnation
  • They allow us to feel fatalistic and helpless
  • Conformity of thinking leads to group-think


Margaret Atwood’s dystopian world described in The Handmaid’s Tale features characters who frequently utter the phrase, “blessed be the fruit”. This can be a greeting, but it can also be a sign-off. Of course, this phrase was never designed to be just a blessing and a greeting. It has been designed by the ruling class to be the ultimate example of a thought-terminating cliché, to keep the fertile class of women ignorant and in their place.


That’s what you get for caring” is a famous catch phrase by Magda Szubanski’s character Lynne Postlethwaite from Australian 1990s comedy show Fast Forward.

Another example: “Don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed“. Lynne said this to her drug thieving adult son when she first caught him stealing valium as a child. If she had taken the opportunity to talk to him about drug use then, we deduce he wouldn’t have grown into an adult drug addict. The son is now “a complete depressive”. “Always has been, always will be. Gets it from his father.

One way of structuring a joke: Start with a thought-terminating cliché and then follow immediately with something unexpected:


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




error: Content is protected