We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Commonplace?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A commonplace is a rhetorical device developed by teachers like Aristotle, and has been used in numerous applications in public speaking for many years. Ironically, the commonplace is less common now, though you’ll still see references to commonplace books, which are quite different. You’d most often find commonplaces in things like the modern sermon or in speaking performances given by motivational or extemporaneous speakers.

Even before Aristotle, the Sophists, a group of itinerant scholars traveling the various Greek city-states often taught how to write and deliver speeches. They often performed such speeches for audiences to gain new students, and were occasionally asked to speak on a specific topic with little preparation time. In order to create material that sounded scholarly, they usually had prepared a number of themes or compositions that could be easily adapted quickly to be performed at will.

Aristotle called these themes commonplaces, and by the term he meant no derision. In fact he taught his students to create a variety of prepared themes, which could be delivered as occasion required. They generally took two forms: encomium or vituperation. Encomiums praised something, usually something virtuous that affected most people, like different emotions, or things like democracy. Vituperation criticized something considered evil.

Each commonplace could be adapted in praise or criticism of a person or institution that exhibited virtue or vice, and most were studied compositions full of applicable quotes, maxims or adages. This led to many keeping commonplace books or notes that could be used if a speaker needed to give a speech on a particular topic or quickly make over a speech for a unique occasion. Shorter commonplaces could be developed too, usually with a few sentences for or against something and one to two well-placed quotes of familiar material.

There was a turning of the tide in the study and production of rhetoric that began to view commonplaces as too trite, too studied and too “common.” You see such sentiment expressed in fiction of the early 19th century, just before the Romantic era, which valued genuine expression and “spontaneous overflow of feeling.” In Pride and Prejudice for example, both Elizabeth Bennet and her father, laugh at the ridiculousness of their cousin Mr. Collins when he openly confesses to practicing commonplace compliments for his employer Lady Catherine De Bourgh, and mentions that he tries to give them “an unstudied air” when delivering them.

Sentiment in both literature and rhetoric had begun to praise the truly extemporaneous, instead of the prepared, and often dismissed commonplaces as something to be avoided because they sounded trite and repetitious. Nevertheless, students and competitors in speech competitions, especially those who must give extemporaneous speeches, may slightly lean on the commonplace today, by having a few prepared remarks about a variety of subjects that can be fit into a speech that must be given on the spot. Being able to reference a few quotes on “common” themes often makes the extemporaneous speaker appear more knowledgeable, prepared, and relaxed.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
Learn more
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.