Remember Mary Poppins? A beloved film classic, the scene of the nannies being blown away by the wind astounded my daughter. They seemed to be actually flying. While explaining how the effect was done, I thought about contemporary movies with similar scenes, the one coming most readily to mind being Spiderman. Don’t the nannies flying in harnesses with wires look much more real than a CGI Spiderman swinging from building to building?
While CGI-laden movies make big money at the box office, it is interesting to note that on Box Office Mojo’s 50 all-time top domestic grossing movies, adjusted for ticket price inflation, only ten are ones that use extensive CGI. Mary Poppins is 25th on the list while Spiderman is 36th. So the awe-inspiring movie, at least as demonstrated by my daughter’s reaction, is higher on the list than a movie with a type of effects, CGI, which is routinely labeled awesome. Do you see the contradiction?
It appears people know the difference between the everyday and the extraordinary. But for some reason, they feel compelled to exaggerate.
The overuse of the word awesome is a phenomenon I call language inflation. At some point calling something good was not good enough so it became successively great, rad, and eventually awesome. Now the most mundane thing is awesome. How do we describe that which truly inspires awe? Lest you think I am picking on the word awesome, language inflation afflicts negative descriptions too. Bad was eventually magnified to evil. If the commonplace is evil what was Hitler?
If you want to communicate well, avoid language inflation:
- Take a beat before speaking to ensure that you are not overstating the case. For instance, when complaining about your spouse’s behavior is it really true he never puts down the toilet seat? She is always late? Always? Not only is inflated language inaccurate, it can be inflammatory, causing arguments or bad feelings that more precise words would avoid.
- Practice refraining from language inflation in your everyday speech. Especially in the heat of an argument, it is easy to forget that words have meaning. Make it a habit to be careful when choosing words.
- Expand your vocabulary to improve your communication skills and relationships. The richness of English gives you so many choices. There are numerous, free apps to help you. I use dictionary.com’s.
Imagine a society in which we say what we mean and do not offend people. Do I dare say it? It would be awesome.
Question - Is being well-spoken obsolete? Please leave a comment below.