How ‘thoughts and prayers’ went from common condolence to cynical meme

“Semantic satiation” is the term to describe when a word or phrase is repeated so often it loses its meaning and becomes almost gibberish.

In the days after a young man shot and killed 17 people at a school in Parkland, Florida, “thoughts and prayers” reached full semantic satiation, with memes and cynical jokes.

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Jokes, mere hours after a deadly shooting? To the voices behind the dark humor, the persistence of “thoughts and prayers” is the real joke.

To #thoughtsandprayers critics, mass shootings continue to happen because nobody does anything after the events except offer thoughts and prayers.

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There has been no major gun-control legislation in the nearly six years since Sandy Hook, the tragedy that was supposed to change everything.

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Critics are especially incensed by politicians who offer “thoughts and prayers” messages but have financial ties to the NRA, the major gun industry lobbying group.

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A chart of Google queries shows that use of “thoughts and prayers” online spikes during natural disasters and mass shootings.

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The further it’s embedded in our post-tragedy routine, the more the phrase is mocked.

After the Orlando nightclub shooting in June 2016, a developer created a “Thoughts and Prayers” 8-bit video game, where players try to prevent mass shootings by pressing “think” and “pray” buttons.


Religious thinkers and leaders are trying to reclaim “thoughts and prayers.”

The Dalai Lama has said he’s skeptical that prayers alone will achieve world peace.

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And Pope Francis asks people to intertwine their prayers with action.

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