08 January 2016


English has an adjectival structure for comparisons: positive, comparative, superlative. As in good, better, best. We qualify these with: very good, slightly better etc. But many people find those expressions inadequate to the point where even best, the superlative, has lost its meaning in some circles and hyperbole has insinuated itself into everyday language diluting the strength of vocabulary.
It seems good, lovely or even great are no longer sufficient to indicate something's value. Instead we hear awesome, amazing, incredible. Such words were once reserved for the truly remarkable, the arresting. Did we say Alexander the Awesome? No, he was Great because great means great. Extremes have been hijacked, and thus devalued, so that we are in a position where we have nowhere to go when we want to express the highest of sentiments. Excellent has become lame whereas it should be the pinnacle of description.
No one gets upset any more, they declare themselves freaked out. And if that isn't deemed suitably exceptional then the adverb totally is employed. If something is one-of-a-kind we may hear it described as very unique. Unique has a complete meaning by itself. It does not require qualification any more then the word pregnant. Is insecurity at the root of this? Is there a fear of being accused of understatement, of not being sufficiently moved?
Popular news reporting has probably played a hand. Stock markets no longer rise and fall, they plunge and soar. As does our daily temperature. So when a true plunge occurs we have no way of distinguishing it from an ordinary plunge! Even mundane articles are peppered with adjectives such as horrendous, shocking, hilarious, stunning. Now when a truly terrible world event occurs the appropriate words have already been used up.
Nothing stands still, not least language, but our ability to communicate in rational terms is dwindling. Wild exaggeration abounds. In these days of thumbs on touch screens, even the simple smiley has been trumped by extravagant emojis. Language is starting its steady return to the age of the pictogram.
Long live the simple word!

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