(CNN)Semantic satiation is the phenomenon in which a word or phrase is repeated so often it loses its meaning. But it also becomes something ridiculous, a jumble of letters that feels alien on the tongue and reads like gibberish on paper.
How 'thoughts and prayers' went from common condolence to cynical meme
"Thoughts and prayers" has reached that full semantic satiation.
For the last few years, after every mass shooting, the term immediately trends on social platforms. It's not a good kind of trending: Among the earnest pleas for social and legislative action, the aftermath of each successive shooting inspires more and more memes and cynical jokes.
In one highly-shared image that circulated after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in February, "Thoughts and Prayers" is imprinted on the side of a garbage truck. Another meme shows an empty van. "Excellent news," it reads. "The first truckload of your thoughts and prayers has just arrived."
Jokes, mere hours after a deadly shooting? To the voices behind the dark humor, the persistence of "thoughts and prayers" is the real joke.
The repetition of "thoughts and prayers" is a product of the repetition of mass shootings. And to #ThoughtsAndPrayers critics, the repetition of mass shootings exists because no one is doing much else besides offering thoughts and prayers.
There has been no major gun-control legislation in the nearly six years since Sandy Hook, the tragedy that was supposed to change everything. In fact, in the years following Sandy Hook, more states loosened gun buying restrictions than tightened them.
Politicians like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and even President Donald Trump were taken to task for their "thoughts and prayers" messages after the Parkland shooting. All have staunch pro-gun stances and financial ties to the NRA.
In May, a teenager shot and killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School near Houston, Texas. Just days after the tragedy, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo had desperate words for people who were content to remain inactive on gun control reform.
"This isn't a time for prayers, and study and inaction," he wrote in a Facebook post, "it's a time for prayers, a