Glittering Generalities, Euphemisms and Slogans

Glittering Generalities: 
This technique uses important-sounding "glad words" that have little or no real meaning. These words are used in general statements that cannot be proved or disproved. Words like "good," "honest," "fair," and "best" are examples of "glad" words.

Glittering Generalities 
(Argument by Slogan)
This is an important-sounding but unspecific claim. It cannot be proved true or false because it really says little or nothing. An example of a glittering generality is the promotion for a popular beverage as "The Real Thing." Here are some others : "Simply the best," "the Right Stuff," "Nutrition That Works." The point is that the phrase sounds good but says nothing definite.

"We believe in, fight for, live by virtue words about which we have deep-set ideas. Such words include civilization, Christianity, good, proper, right, democracy, patriotism, motherhood, fatherhood, science, medicine, health, and love.

In propaganda analysis, these virtue words  are called"Glittering Generalities" in order to focus attention upon this dangerous characteristic that they have: They mean different things to different people; they can be used in different ways. This is not a criticism of these words as we understand them. Quite the contrary. It is a criticism of the uses to which propagandists put the cherished words and beliefs of unsuspecting people.

The Glittering Generality is, in short, Name Calling in reverse. While Name Calling seeks to make us form a judgment to reject and condemn without examining the evidence, the Glittering Generality device seeks to make us approve and accept without examining the evidence.

In acquainting ourselves with the Glittering Generality Device, therefore, all that has been said regarding Name Calling must be kept in mind..." (Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1938)

A slogan is a brief, striking phrase that may include labeling and stereotyping. Although slogans may be enlisted to support reasoned ideas, in practice they tend to act only as emotional appeals.

When propagandists use glittering generalities and name-calling symbols, they are attempting to arouse their audience with vivid, emotionally suggestive words. In certain situations, however, the propagandist attempts to pacify the audience in order to make an unpleasant reality more palatable. This is accomplished by using words that are bland and euphemistic.

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis suggested a number of questions that people should ask themselves when confronted with this technique:
  • What does the virtue word really mean?
  • Does the idea in question have a legitimate connection with the real meaning of the word:
  • Is an idea that does not serve my best interests being "sold" to me merely through its being given a name that I like?
  • Leaving the virtue word out of consideration, what are the merits of the idea itself?


Virtue Words:

  • RESPONSIBLE (The McCanns as parents) (One might ask how leaving 3 children under the age of 4 alone in an apartment while drinking wine with their friends might be categorised as "responsible", for instance.)
  • DEVOUT (Catholics) (The McCanns have been portrayed as deeply religious- although no specific history of their devotion to the church prior to Madeleine's "disappearance" has been offered.)


  • "Don't You Forget About Me"
  • "A Minute for Madeleine" (CEOP website)
  • "Leaving no stone unturned" (One might ask whether a reconstruction of May 3, 2007 might be a stone to turn over, for instance.)

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