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Wilf Popoff

Wasted Words: A Compulsion to Exaggerate

Golden trophy

Frank McKenna, a San Diego photographer, complains that all photos displayed on the web are described as stunning. “What’s going on here?” he asks. “When did every picture become stunning?”

McKenna sees this as word inflation. I agree to a point. Certainly it’s almost insulting nowadays to simply say something is delightful or charming; we have to apply the most inflated adjective out there. Stunning meets the test.

But there’s more to it. We’ve foreclosed creativity. Maxed-out adjectives have become clichés to which few pay attention. When everything is awesome or amazing or stunning, what more can be said? It’s not that these words are meaningless; their meaning has been wrung out through overuse. Whatever became of understatement?

We’ve also disarmed our faculty for discernment. In an age of likes, distinctions are inappropriate. Everyone is a winner and all projects merit an A.

Golden trophySimilar hyperbole has infected job labels. In former times, successful Hollywood entertainers were stars. When we began to call anyone who stepped in front of a camera a star, it became necessary to promote their more notable colleagues to superstars (or megastars).

I tip my hat to their clever and now wealthier agents, although the latest word is that producers are recoiling from excessive fees and superstardom is in eclipse.

However, I am sure the Hollywood tradition will live on. We have supermodels, sports superstars, rock superstars … The puffery seems arbitrary, but what do I know. Our times are ruled by marketing.

It’s even more intolerable when supersizing afflicts commerce and academe. We now have super CEOs and super professors, both occupations presumably engaging the truly talented and both, of course, top earners.

By the time this article appears, my new business cards will arrive. They identify me as a super editor and guarantee conversion of the most dismal copy into awesome text. I’m also doubling my hourly rate.


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