Tuesday, December 12, 2006

'A Few Minutes' ... on Hyperbole

I wrote the following and then thought to myself, "Look at me ... I'm ranting like an old man." So, if you want a good chuckle, read the following while imagining these words are being read by 60 Minutes Correspondent Andy Rooney.

I'm growing tired of the use, or rather, the OVER-use hyperbole in everyday life.

I suppose the straw that broke the camel's back was a red carpet interview I watched Angelina Jolie give regarding her new movie. In that interview, she was asked a question about Robert De Niro and passingly called him "brilliant." Brilliant? Really. I wonder what is his IQ ...

Words like "brilliant," or "genius," are thrown around too often if you ask me. Such words should be reserved for the few precious souls who are truly such. Or you could tune into Sean Hannity's or Rush Limbaugh's radio shows & find out what it is the Democrats are doing right now to be "complete morons" or "idiotic." Too many songs, movies, or TV shows are referred to as "awesome" or "amazing." Are they? Really? Too many rising athletes are called "incredible talents," "athletic freaks," or "phenoms." I'm sure that those athletes are good at what they do, but do they exhibit the "once-in-a-lifetime" kind of athleticism to warrant such elaborate language? We have too many discussions about how the latest athletic achievement is the greatest of all-time. Only one athlete or feat can be the greatest -- they can't all be. And don't get me started on the kinds of events upon which we slap the word "miracle."

While we are at it, can we limit the amount of times we can use modifying adverbs such as "very" or "really." "That was a very, very good blog entry." Or, "I really enjoyed that blog entry." They have a salary cap in professional sports. Couldn't we have a vocabulary cap in everyday life?

I'm not sure what motivates people toward exaggeration. Have you ever been around a group of people talking about that one time they got REALLY sick? Or the worst storm they've ever witnessed? Or the loudest sports stadium they've ever attended? Ever noticed how each person feels a strong urge to top the story told before him or her? What is it about our humanity that makes us embellish?

I hope that I'm not raining on anyone's parade. I get excited about things, too. And sometimes, the English language doesn't adequately service to the point of painting a good enough picture to describe my level of excitement. And so I'm tempted to exaggerate. Nevertheless, the over-use of hyperbole, to me, betrays a sense of ignorance. I just wish that we would all choose our words more carefully. And when we speak, I wish that we would speak with a greater sense of perspective.

And that's my diatribe of the week.


Mark said...


This post contains some of the truest truths I've ever read. It was so magnificent, moving me so deeply, that I can barely even move my fingers in typing a response to the awesome transrelescence of this post. In tears and shouts of joy, I thank you.

Seriously, though, I agree with you. I've had some interesting conversations with a German friend of mine about this sort of thing. In the USA, we tend to use hyperbole in our comments, but great reserve in our criticism. If someone draws a bunny rabbit and you can kind of recognize what it is, you say, "Wow, that's wonderful! You're such an artist!" If someone fails miserably at something, we'll say, "Hey...it's not bad! You did pretty good!" Even when we're having a terrible day, we'll readily say we're doing "fine" or even "great".

At least in Germany, they tend to do the opposite. When they perceive something as really good, they understate it. For instance, I had been learning an extremely difficult riff on my guitar; the kind that makes you realize you're something special. I showed it to my friend and he said, "That's not bad." I said, "WHAT?! Didn't you see how awesome that was, and all you say is 'Not bad'?" He had to explain that for him, "Not bad" means our equivalent of "Awesome!"

On the reverse side, I don't think they over do it on the negatives, but they aren't afraid to tell you if they don't think something is very good. Most of them are polite about how they say it, though.

So I think our use of hyperbole is something of a cultural deal. Especially in the South, where no one is ever allowed to say they're having a bad day. I don't think it's necessarily that all humanity embellishes everything. We're either following our culture, or in the case of the ESPN anchors, they're just trying to make themselves sound more interesting.

III said...

FWIW, people, Mark Adams might be among the top 5 guitarists I've ever heard play in person. And I'm a concert fiend, frequenting some of the best talent out there (Steven Curtis Chapman, et. al.).

So it's cultural. Interesting. Hmmmmmm ...

BTW, thanks for the unembellished praise at the top of your post. I know it was straight from the heart.

Mark said...

Thanks for the props, III! This definitely was a thought-provoking post you wrote. Everyone does love to exaggerate.

Then when we want to talk about the amazing love of God displayed in his Son, those words just don't mean as much as they should.

God is awesome, but so is chocolate chip pecan pie, and so are Thundercats. I think we need some new vocabulary words. Even better, maybe we should go back to not even uttering the name of God out loud, or to ceremoniously washing our hands before we open our Bibles to read. We've got to get some reverence back in there somewhere.

I enjoy your blog...keep the posts coming!

Lloyd said...
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