I’m a glittering generality!

I have a job!
proper job which pays taxes, but I’m no hard working taxpayer.

This is not because I’m bone idle, though I am, but because “hard working taxpayers” don’t exist.

There are people who work hard at a job, and pay tax. They do exist.


Here’s one.


This is NOT one

But there’s a difference between an actual person who works hard at a job that pays tax and a “hard working taxpayer“.

This is because one exists and the other is a rhetorical sleight of hand that means absolutely nothing.

The hard working taxpayer is a mythical beast referred to by politicians, a phrase used to refer to someone, possibly you, who isn’t the sort of lazy swine who consumes public money and resources that are paid for by said hard working taxpayers.

For example….


Not saved the money for lazy swine like me, but for the hard working types, whoever they are.

This phrase is something called a glittering generality…

…an emotionally appealing phrase so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that it carries conviction without supporting information or reason. Such highly valued concepts attract general approval and acclaim. [link]

ie. total bull.

Glittering generalities use attractive but vague words to make speeches and phrases sound good without saying anything in particular.[link]
They appeal to values so an emotional response is triggered. They don’t commit to anything specific, as their purpose is to make you feel a particular way, and keep the speaker off the hook from any challenge thus avoiding rational inquiry.

Here’s some other glittering generalities…
Capture“Things”? WHAT things? Spanners? Cars? The weather?



Hang on, we can WHAT exactly? Kill kittens? Cos that’s not nice.


AGAIN! We all love AGAIN. This guy is bringing back when America was great, from the days of yore. Yesteryear. Then.
No, there is no actual date when America was great, it was the good old days wasn’t it?

These are all phrases that are not confined to Americans. Though they are very good at at.
They are in your organisation right now! No escaping them, wherever there is someone who want you to feel good but doesn’t want to be held to anything specific you will find a glittering generality.

This post here gives some good examples of Hospitals that would like you to feel better, not through medicine but purely through the power of their straplines!

  • Aintree Hospitals Trust
    Where Quality Matters
  • Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust
    A passion for healthcare, a reputation for excellence
  • West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust
    Putting you first
  • Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children
    The child first and always

There, don’t you feel better?

Glittering generalities are used in planning and strategy documents too, to commit to nothing in particular, but anything good that happens to happen probably will be because of these words….

Here is a Housing Strategy…

  • We will provide a range of good quality homes to meet the needs of all current and future residents and which supports the City‟s economic growth.
  • To deliver this we will work effectively with partners to improve the supply, choice and quality of homes across the city.
  • We will continue to build safe and sustainable communities with excellent housing services that are accessible for all.

Turn some of those words the other way round to see if this actually means anything at all.
“good quality homes” as opposed to “dilapidated hovels”?
“excellent housing services” as opposed to “pizzpoor outsourced shysters”?
Doesn’t mean specific, nothing that could tie the speaker of these words to anything specific.  This is what plans and strategies thrive on, promises that services will be “high quality” and “meet the needs of diverse individuals”.

It IS possible to say words about things that are important without being vague and grandiose.  Here is an example of a politician saying something specific and concrete, that as a consequence actually happened.


Without empty words our plans and strategies would be very thin pamphlets and all the better for it.


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