16 May 2008

I inherited from my parents an interest in the mechanisms of language. Good lefties that they were, they nonetheless worshipped the grammatical feet of William Safire. No doubt this pleasure in good usage was part of what attracted me to my spouse who is herself a mine of knowledge about our fair tongue. In comparison to them my skills are thin and meager.

Even so, I find certain habits of speech in the culture at large today to be appalling. How do I loathe them? Let me count the ways!

- “Incredibly” is the most used adverb today. And hardly a sentence lacks it these days. I suppose people use adverbs mostly as spacers, words that allow the brain to find the next meaningful word. But if you are going to use an adverb, vary the selection. “Incredibly” does not apply to all equally well. Amazing, remarkable, impressive, considerable, astonishing, all come to mind. Incredibly (and its more modest adjective parent “incredible”) begins to grate when applied to very believable events.

- “All new” is what the TV folks say when they mean “new.’ Why must they say “all new?” Are there episodes that are “somewhat new,” “partially new?”
- “Most unique” is simply moronic. Unique means one of a kind. Unique has no comparative form, being unique.

That should do it for now. But now you will find yourself hearing these terms and flinching. I am sorry, but in this case ignorance is not bliss. Language that pretends to say something and does not becomes intellectual white noise, static, dulling our rational ears to what is genuine. Surrounded by the buzzing of badly expressed and lazily expressed ideas, we lose the ability to recognize genuinely good notions.

The fault, as the bard says, lies not in the stars but in ourselves, of course. Sigh.

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