Greeting cards aren’t about greeting

Greeting cards and cliché more generally bear witness to the fact that the most banal and the most meaningful regularly coincide, and that something always remains beyond the reach of words. Cliché is a place where life and language resist one another.

By recognising the radical imperfection of language, cliché can help ameliorate the damage it does. The continual return of these stock phrases reminds us that, though language can say ‘I love you’ or ‘Our deepest sympathies’ – which ties the love and grief we feel with all those who have ever, and will ever, love and grieve – it can never completely capture this grief or this love. After which, the universality of our love, our grief, begins to feel less like an act of violent conceptuality and more like an act of community, transposing us into a commune with all the living and the dead.

Greeting cards serve as a reminder that it is often with the clichéd and the ordinary that the fabric of language starts to unravel, and the pulse of life – that which will always remain beyond words – begins to bubble up from beneath.

Here is more, by Daniel Fraser.  Do you prefer that take, or a single tweet on the topic by Robin Hanson?


It is far simpler than that. Better a cliche than say what you actually think. Badly.

... Greeting Cards are trivial --- have you noticed the lyrics to popular music for past century ?

(and pop music lyrics for past quarter century are a horror all their own)

Max Boot: "Trump is sucking a substantial portion of America into his Orwellian universe. The rest of us have to struggle simply to remember that war isn’t peace, freedom isn’t slavery, ignorance isn’t strength." Greeting cards are a respite from the usual lies, the deception, the hidden meaning. Orwellian has become a compliment. Strunk and White, like Orwell, were obsessed with clarity in communication because they were from the age of propaganda, when words had no meaning but were tools to lie, to deceive, to convey the hidden meaning to fellow travelers.

"it can never completely capture this grief or this love." Which is why sometimes I add a personal note. But in some cases of grief there simply are no words. Fortunately, the images on the card can also be expressive.

Clichés earned their status as clichés because they're so obviously true

The vapider the cliche, the sharper the canines of the real truth it covers.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

These sentences are in reference to the cliches of the world drug and alcohol recovery.

The words are just part of it. The type of paper-stock, the font, and the imagery all work together to craft a certain feeling, one that jibes with the specific emotion that the card-giver wants to express.


i dont care how clever or well-read daniel fraser is and i am no longer entertained by short essays like this one. i used to be, though, so i don't begrudge him or his readers.

Agreed. I tried reading the article and I got sick of his bloviating within the first 3 paragraphs. Tyler’s excerpt contains the only meaningful text in the essay.

If that's the most meaningful text in the essay I can't imagine how bad the rest is.

I'm not much interested in Robin Hanson's tweet either.

What about, "I sent him a card on his birthday as an expression of friendship."

That was an advertisement for Hallmark, right?

When you don’t care enough to actually write a note yourself ...

What topic?

Well, the second of those three paragraphs, particularly, is pretty damn good.

As a child, I watched my mother open greeting cards in the mail: "Phony", she'd toss it in the garbage can. "Corny", rip it up and throw it away, "Meaningless", she crumple it and drop it onto the table. So greeting cards were anathema for me up until the day I married a woman for whom greeting cards were a way of life. Around that time I was also learning that I'd overestimated the importance of sincerity in social relations, as well as the value of originality -- in anything.

My wife spreads greeting cards far and wide to lubricate social relations, and to maintain her vast personal and business networks in the absence of face to face communications. Sincerity and originality never occur to her in this context.

I now see greeting card sentiments as well-worn coins that pass from hand to hand, being nothing in themselves, but carrying a little warmth from the hand of the previous holder.

This post is a great example of why people hate academics.

Thank You notes are one of the reasons I hate Christmas. One year as a child I wrote everyone who had sent me a present asking them not to send me presents anymore. That's how much I hated writing Thank You notes. I'd rather give up a present than write a Thank You note.

There is a lot of drivel on Aeon.

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