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Degrees of extravagant exaggeration

September 6, 2011

‘Absolutely. That’s why I did it.’ Possibly heard on the radio or in everyday conversation. Sounds fine. But what about the word ‘absolutely’? Is this just an emphatic ‘yes’. Strangely, simply saying ‘yes’ is probably more effective; the word ‘absolutely’, which means something very different, is a distraction, often sounding insincere (the opposite of its intention).

Hyperbole and comparatives
In our writing we are encouraged to keep statements as simple and as accurate as possible. This is because directness is more effective. But in many instances we feel this is not enough; we mix in hyperbole and comparatives. We see this in marketing material: ‘This incredibly effective solution can deliver real solutions.’ Lots to comment on here, but why jump to the extreme? ‘This effective solution’ is probably enough; or ‘this very effective solution’; or even ‘this most effective solution’ (starting to sound pompous); then we have ‘extremely effective’, and then, perhaps, ‘incredibly effective’. It is so effective we cannot believe it? This is typical of a type of emphasis word that marks our text as over-written and over-stated, making it weaker. As for ‘real solution’ (as against ‘unreal solution’) that is for another time.

Overstate and undermine
By overstating we undermine.  Many of these words and phrases are fine in conversation but we must be (very) sure of their relevance before using them in written text. Literally.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2011 13:00

    The overused exaggeration that I have noticed a lot is ‘literally’. Not as you have used it in your post, perfectly correctly, but as in:

    I was literally hanging on by my fingernails.
    Hmm. I have yet to see anyone achieve that feat.

  2. Mike Taylor permalink
    April 5, 2012 08:27

    Another popular adverb (a favourite with professional footballers who enjoy filling in blank spaces during TV interviews) is “obviously”, especially when not.

    • April 5, 2012 08:45

      A loaded word. And the one word writers should avoid, since to the reader nothing is ‘obvious’. The dictionary definition is that which is easy to see (perceptible); yet we often use it when arguing a case. A common variation is: ‘to state the obvious…’, a form of pre-emptive excuse for stating something that the writer (or speaker) assumes is beyond dispute. Obviously.

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