Friday, August 11, 2017

Excess and Hyperbole

No one who reads or listens can have missed some of the changes in our language that have occurred over the last few months as well as years. The current POTUS isn’t one for moderate or measured speech, but he isn’t the only one for whom words of excess and extravagance are the first choice in a vocabulary. Alas, I too am guilty.

I have learned to ignore the blurbs on the back covers of books I’m considering reading because they are usually all praise and no insight. I learn nothing about the book that will tell me what it is about; instead I learn how much the writer of the blurb liked it. I’m glad she liked it, but that doesn’t mean I will. The same is true of much of what is written about movies and plays, bicycles and new cars, clothing and lawn equipment. Everything is great, excellent, the best, fabulous. Whatever happened to “good enough” or “it’ll do the job”? Is every event great? Or, the best ever? Are we really on an unbroken upward trajectory? I doubt it.

Some years ago I came across a vintage ad selling soap that was of three grades—good, better, best. Each grade has its specific use, and there was no shame in using the lowest grade for its appropriate purpose. I like that. Why buy the absolute best mustard when it’s buried under onions and smoked ham when the lesser kind will suffice? Why buy the most expensive cleanser when vinegar and water will do?

I miss the quiet voice of reason in ordinary conversation, especially now as political rhetoric heats up over events that should make rational men and women lower their voices and think harder, not less. It’s easy to be swept up in the “enthusiasm” of touting this or that, but it’s not more beneficial than choosing to be accurate in our evaluations. Here I was about to write “I might love a particular book” when I realized I was doing it too, falling into the bad habit that has spread insidiously in our speech and writing. As a Brazilian friend pointed out, Americans claim to “love” just about everything. So here is my correction: I might enjoy a particular novel, find scenes in it that seem especially perceptive or moving or startling, but I don’t really “love” the book. Once again, if I remove the hyperbole I can look more closely and describe more accurately the reading experience I did have.

Since I can only speak for myself, here is my pledge: to be more mindful of my language so that instead of hyperbole I present a more accurate depiction of the experience or object or idea. That sounds so simple.

And because this blog is about writing and my life as a writer (or something like that), I’m pleased to report that my next Anita Ray short story, “A Slight Deviation from the Mean,” will appear in the November/December 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

You can find more Anita Ray fiction here: