Truism: Definition & Examples

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

A truism is a statement of truth that is considered so obvious or self-evident that it does not need to be discussed. Learn about the definition and uses of a truism, and explore relevant examples. Updated: 10/14/2021

What is Trusim?

If you asked a friend for advice on something and their best response was, 'The sky is blue,' you'd probably think twice before seeking that person's guidance again. After all, how could information so obvious be helpful? Nevertheless, statements just as obvious as the color of the sky are used as suggestions and counsel every day. These are called truisms, and they are statements that are so obviously true that they do not require discussion -- a self-evident truth.

The term 'truism' was first used by Irish priest and poet Jonathan Swift in 1708.

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  • 0:00 What Is Truism?
  • 0:35 Uses Of Truisms
  • 2:05 Examples Of Truisms
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Uses of Truisms

So what's the point of a truism, then? Thankfully, they're not just tools for your local 'Captain Obvious.' In fact, truisms are used quite frequently in rhetorical and literary contexts because they require so little discussion or thought to comprehend.

Rhetorically, a truism might be employed by a speaker to express a widely known truth concisely so as to save time and to relate to the audience through a shared understanding of the phrase. A speaker can more effectively persuade listeners this way. 'Better safe than sorry,' for instance, could be used by a politician to defend preemptive strikes against a supposed enemy. We know the statement is true, but we also understand that there are many different applications of this truth. The speaker's job, then, is to make us believe that such an offensive stance is one of those applications.

Authors can also use truisms in a literary context to succinctly foreshadow a character's experiences. For example, if a protagonist is warned 'not to spit into the wind,' readers may assume that the individual will at some time act in a way that has adverse consequences for that character. Again, authors can be concise by employing truisms because we all inherently understand not only the basic truth of the statement, but also the various ways in which it can be applied. Take a look at the following obvious truths and see what applications you can come up with for them!

Examples of Truisms

'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.'

This truism comes to us from the Chinese philosopher Laozi whose most notable work, the Tao Te Chung, is full of such observations. We know that any journey begins with a single step, but this is precisely the truth that is supposed to motivate us to start at all, regardless of how long or difficult the trek may be.

'A man cannot serve two masters.'

Anyone with a boss and a significant other understands this truth all too well. Attributed to Jesus in the 'Gospel of St. Matthew', this truism was originally used to say that people cannot truly serve God while also devoting so much attention to their money. Of course, we can also understand it to mean more basically that it's difficult to manage opposing interests.

'All that glitters is not gold.'

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