Inflation is rampant–in our language. Note how I amped up that sentence to get your attention. That’s a common tactic in writing content for branding and marketing. There’s so much noise to compete with that people are inserting hype because they think they must just to be heard. But I’ve found that those who speak quietly and precisely are more credible over the long haul because they possess track records of accuracy rather than hysteria.
My friend Sharon must be a sage because almost everything she does is wise by her own report. Today she told me that she was going to change out of her sweats before running some errands. “I think that would be wise,” she confided. “Don’t you?” I stifled the urge to ask if it was in fact really wise, or maybe just good, since according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, wise means:
a. marked by deep understanding, keen discernment, and a capacity for sound judgment;
b. evidencing or hinting at the possession of inside information.
I didn’t think her action indicated either of those things but find it’s a good example of hyperbole, defined as “exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.”
She is also judicious, according to her. Or at least her actions are. As in when she told me she painted an entire room with one gallon of paint because she was judicious with her use of it. The definition staff of Merriam-Webster might beg to differ with her, as they define judicious this way:
“having or showing good judgment.”
In fact, they show it as a synonym of wise. The word that came to my mind during the paint report was “frugal,” mainly because I was trying not to be judgmental and use “cheap.” I’m not sure her frugal painting was either judicious or wise because she’ll probably have to paint the room again in a year or two when the thin coat begins to fade.
Sharon inflates her language unnecessarily and often incorrectly. Maybe she does it to sound intelligent, or maybe she uses words she hears all around her. But every time I talk with her I come away with the renewed conviction that we overuse, and sometimes incorrectly use, many words.
How about awesome? I hear that many times each day. “You’re awesome!” “I just had an awesome salad.” “Your haircut is awesome!” And so on.
Each time I hear that word I think, “Really?” Because how many things in a person’s day, let alone lifetime, are truly awesome? According to Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word, “causing feelings of fear and wonder,” there simply can’t be as many awesome experiences as we are declaring.
As much as the overuse of awesome annoys me, my pet peeve is “very.” We could scratch it from the English language with no great loss because it adds so little the way it is used yet it is used so often. I usually hear it in ways like these:
“It’s very cold outside.”
“She’s very nice.”
And sometimes it’s doubled to show that the speaker really means it, like this:
“It’s very, very important to turn the machine off when you’re done with it.”
Isn’t it sufficient to say, “It’s cold outside,” “She’s nice,” and “It’s important to turn the machine off when you’re done with it?” What does very add?
When used correctly as an adverb it should mean exceedingly or exceptionally. If we remove the hype from our language we probably don’t have many occasions when those words are necessary. A better way to use it is as an adjective where it means actual or precise, such as, “The very person I was talking about just arrived.”
When we create content for branding and marketing, including articles, tweets, and web pages, we naturally want to capture attention so people will read on. But it’s better to do it with creative words than hyperbole in order to retain credibility. Try to keep the hype out of your type so you’ll be the real deal to your target clientele.