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What Does "Trite But True" Mean?

It appears many visitors come to this site in search of information about the phrase “trite but true." While not an expert on semantics, I thought I might take time to explain what the expression means to me and why the website bears that name.

According to The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, the word “trite” derives from the Latin tritus, which is a past participle of the verb terere, “to rub.” Originally, trite meant “worn out by rubbing.” A trite garment was frayed. A trite road indicated a well-beaten path. This sense of “worn out by use” soon took on the expanded meaning of “worn out by constant repetition.” People applied it to speech or thought that was hackneyed, commonplace, stale, and devoid of any novelty or originality.

The expression “trite but true” is paradoxical in that it implicitly contrasts two human values: novelty and truth. The adversative “but” suggests that novelty and originality are not always supreme virtues. Even if something has been repeated a thousand times, it may still be as true as ever. And truth is a good that trumps the human lust for novelty, what Samuel Johnson called “the hunger of imagination.” Just because a notion is new does not mean it is true. Just because an idea is old does not mean it should be discarded as worthless.

I believe that much of what is good for human life and happiness is often dismissed as trite. “Spend less than you earn.” “You have to be a friend to have a friend.” “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” A person can build a life on such bromides.

By this token, I like to say that Christianity is trite but true. By Christianity I mean the way of Jesus as it is revealed in the New Testament--and not at all every distortion or perversion that has cloaked itself in the name of Christianity over the course of history. Certainly, Christianity has endured through the ages in large part because many generations have found the message of Jesus eternally fresh. But familiarity also breeds contempt with the result that nations once called Christian are less so or no longer so.

The purpose of this site is to explore how things considered “trite” may also be profoundly “true.” Consequently, as time passes, I am seeking wisdom not only in the Bible but also in other writings that no longer have the blush of youth. Whether “tried and true” or “trite but true,” the moral genius of the past can surely guide the future.

Comments (1)

Each day when I see no new posts on your site, I grow increasingly concerned. So I will tell you what Trite but True means to me.

It means a lot of good thinking and writing. And even when I don't agree with you, I still appreciate those qualities in your weblog.

We at Readersandwritersblog.com miss you.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 5, 2007 8:40 AM.

The previous post in this blog was The Four Legs of the Christian Table.

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