• Worthless, silly, or uninteresting as a result of overuse


It's nice to stop and literally smell the roses, but saying so? Admit it: after so much repetition, this stale expression barely means anything. As soon as we hear it, rather than actually stopping to consider what it means, we're more likely to just stop paying attention, dismissing the advice as irrelevant or too general. Trite sayings tend to bounce right off the ears, making about as much impact as if you'd said nothing at all.

Trite is a word which best describes something that you've already seen a zillion times. Like a confession of love at the airport, holding up bunny ears in a photo, or your boss telling you to "think outside the box," things that are trite may have been interesting once, but, after being used ad nauseam, are now dull enough to barely generate a response. The word often comes up in conversations about the arts (especially critiques), where it is commonly used to identify something as hackneyed and cliché. But whether you're penning lyrics to a song or just trying to have a stimulating conversation, you'll probably want to avoid trite expressions as much as possible, as such things can numb an audience or companion, leading them to dismiss your thoughts as nothing but dull old "more of the same."

Example: The trite dialogue had playgoers yawning in minutes.

Example: "Not to be trite," the Chemistry teacher told his students, "but when using a microscope, there's more than meets the eye!"


Etymologists have followed the lineage of trite back to the Latin verb terere, which means "to grind down" or "to wear away" (think of a coastline steadily eroded by beating waves). This meaning was transferred figuratively to the Latin tritus, which, much like trite, described something rendered senseless as a result of being trotted out over and over again. Trite first appeared in English during the mid-16th century.

Derivative Words

Triteness: This noun describes the characteristic of being dull and uninspired.

Example: The triteness of Robert's comments made Jane wonder if her boyfriend was even listening.

Tritely: This adverb describes an action as being related to overuse and banality.

Example: Unfortunately, Robert chose to propose by tritely asking for her ring to be brought in a champagne glass. Jane was not as enchanted as he had hoped.

Trite Law: Used mostly in legal settings, a trite law describes any rule or law that is so commonplace that almost everyone knows it.

Example: The practically automatic response of stopping at a red light reveals this traffic rule to be a trite law.

In Literature

From William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair:

But though he had a fine flux of words, and delivered his little voice with great pomposity and pleasure to himself, and never advanced any sentiment or opinion which was not perfectly trite and stale, and supported by a Latin quotation; yet he failed somehow, in spite of a mediocrity which ought to have insured any man a success.

Here, Thackeray's tone is tongue-in-cheek as he describes an orator who eagerly espouses trite locutions. Although, he claims, "mediocrity" and safe, easily understandable phrases usually lead to popularity, his character, Mr. Pitt Crawley, is never so lucky.


  • Trite has little insight
  • Try as you might, you won't inspire with trite


Staleness, Critiques, Prosaic, Legal

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of trite. Did you use trite in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.