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psittacism

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Definition:

Literally, characteristic of parrots. By extension, thoughtless repetition of a word or phrase without regard for its meaning. Adjective: psittacistic or psittaceous.

See also:


Etymology:

From the Greek, "parrot"

Examples and Observations:

  • "Psittacism, we recall, is the name for the habit of using words without thought. Often a single symbol is enough to start the words flowing, even as prompting a parrot will cause him to run through his piece. The man of the left hears the word 'profit,' and proceeds to intone: 'You can't get anywhere until you destroy the profit system.' The man on the right hears the word 'socialism,' and throwing back his head and shutting his eyes, he roars: 'You can't change human nature!'"
    (Stuart Chase, The Tyranny of Words. Methuen, 1938)


  • "He began to write down the thoughts that came into his head. He wrote first in large clumsy capitals:
    FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
    Then almost without a pause he wrote beneath it:
    TWO AND TWO MAKE FIVE
    . . . He accepted everything. The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia. . . . How easy it all was! Only surrender, and everything else followed."
    (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four)


  • "PSITTACISM is the parrotlike use of language. If there is a malady endemic in legal writing, it is the practice or habit of mechanically repeating previously received ideas or images that reflect neither true reasoning nor feeling. Many legal opinions and law-review articles seem little more than ready-made legal phrases strung end on end to justify a given proposition. . . .

    "The best legal writers attempt to formulate their thoughts anew. Their writing is fresh and original. And it is rare."
    (Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. Oxford Univ. Press, 2001)
Pronunciation: sit-eh-SIZ-em
Also Known As: verbalism, parrot talk, word-slinging
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