Now, a post for the English Crowd: Word Inflation

Everyone who’s taken an economics class knows about inflation: as the government prints more money, the money we have now becomes less valuable. This phenomenon is now pervading our language. A movie is not just sad; it’s really sad. A book is not just powerful; it’s very powerful. In our desperate attempt to communicate our feelings, we are diluting the meaning of our words. There is a time and a place for amplifiers like “very” (It is, for instance, effective in conjunction with “moderate” or “somewhat”), but we have overused these tools, and now they are dull. It’s time to power down our vocabularies. Instead of “really sad,” use “tragic.” Don’t use “really tragic” because it’s redundant.

This change will be difficult because force of habit is so strong. (I’ve had to edit amplifiers out of this post numerous times!) Also, one must account for one’s audience. Some people don’t know what “tragic” means, tragically, so “really sad” is still a useful phrase. This change towards simplicity will bear fruit, however. A person whose words are measured is easier to trust than a person who sounds like a movie critic. One can believe what he says, be it “This was a great book;” “I’m a good driver,” or “I love you.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Literature

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