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Death by hyperbole

By Rolan Stein - posted Monday, 14 January 2008

Was channel surfing last night and lobbed at that most tedious of shows, Grumpy Old Men. The idea of a baby boomer whinge-fest was good for a couple of 30-minute specials … but a whole series, then a second series? And an even less funny mirror series, Grumpy Old Women? Noticed last night that the wittier GOM from the first series have pissed off. Only the spotlight-junkies and second-string baby boomer “celebrities” are left to drag the carcass of this long-gone program over the finish line …

Anyway, one of these whinging old w**kers was harping on about the Odeon Cinema’s logo, “fanatical about film”. Why, he lamented, do they have to be “fanatical” - why not just dedicated to bringing their clientele a comfortable viewing experience?

Well, that alternative logo doesn’t strike sparks off the marketer’s flint, it has to be said. But I take his point about the over-use of hyperbole. I’ve been rattling my cage about this for years to anyone who would listen (not a vast horde). Now, with the emergence of The Blog as a medium without constraints on raving ranting obsessives, oh joy - look out baby cos here I come.


Let me start with my pet hate of hates: “passionate”. That was once an unusual choice of word, a big gun brought out only on special occasions. Poets and artists were passionate: meaning expressive to the point of insanity, suicide even. Great composers were passionate. And the great lovers of literature, like Romeo and Juliet, and Catherine and Heathcliff. Essentially, you had to be a bit of a nutter to be truly passionate. The rest of us were barely aware of the word, and somewhat loathe to use it in reference to ourselves.

But now! No one just likes anything any more - they’re inevitably, inexorably “passionate” about it. Dumb Dora on the neighbour’s deck declares herself “passionate” about Phuket, prawns and plants - this week (I hear her declaring her passion for X, Y and Z over the fence every time she visits). Every Dick is “passionate” about every f**king thing they’re vaguely partial towards. Not keen, not enthusiastic, not interested in, but “passionate”.

“Devastated” is another one. The mildest setback - like a spat with a friend or your footy team losing - and you’re right there with the families of the victims of 9-11 or the tsunami of 2004. Devastated.

Then there’s “blessed”. Hollywood is full of blessed stars going by their TV interviews. Maybe they should rename it Holywood.

And “perfect”! Watch Better Homes and Gardens if you can bear it, and on any given week, in any given year, you’ll hear the whole crew promising you the “perfect” any-bloody-thing in every bloody segment. Fast Ed (now there’s a prize dick) prefixes literally every dish he makes with “perfect”: the perfect five-minute pasta sauce, the perfect enchilada filling, the perfect chocolate mousse. Karen Martini is just as bad. Worse even - she’s compelled through ego or insecurity to add a possessive “my” before “perfect”: my perfect coq au vin, my perfect field mushroom soup, my perfect calamari.

Awesome’s another one. Once reserved for experiences of ineffable magnificence, this one-time superhero of superlatives has been reduced to a non-entity, just one of the lexical crowd. Wanna potato chip? Yeah, awesome. How was your weekend? Awesome. Nice weather, isn’t it? Awesome.


Then there’s “totally”, “absolutely”, “definitely”, “exactly”, “incredible”, “amazing”.

And special mention must be made of another word that is not in the hyperbole category, but would have to go down as the most over-used metaphor of all time: journey! Every f**king Australian Idol is on a “journey”. They tell us so when they get voted out - every single f**king time. Ditto the dancers on Dancing With The Stars. Sportspersons don’t have a sporting career any more - they’re on a journey. Their team is on a journey. The coach is on a journey. No one just does anything any more - they’re all on a f**king “journey”. I just wish they’d get to wherever they’re going so they would shut the f**k up about their f**king “journey”.

The horrific thought has just occurred to me that in whinging on like this, I’m not much different from the GOM I dissed in my post intro. So let me go a step further than merely whining and get deep here. What is my gripe, exactly? Why not use these words to death? There’s plenty more where they came from. The English dictionary numbers about 500,000 items, and double that if you count scientific and technical words. I know - Google just told me so. Want proof, it’s here.

OK, here’s why not. Because hyperbole is hyperbole for a f**king reason, and if you drain the power out through overuse, it’s not hyperbole any more! Where do you go for power when there’s none left? Overuse of hyperbole is castrating the English language! You want a language without goolies? You want a simpering faggot of a tongue? Cos if you don’t stop flogging its most powerful words, you’ll flog them all to death and leave us a boneless fop.

Hey, here’s a thought kiddies. Blogs are supposed to be interactive and all that, so why don’t you post some additions to this list of flayed hyperboles in Comments? I’ll be devastated if you don’t, blessed if you do.

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First published at Boomtown Rap on November 9, 2007.

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About the Author

Rolan Stein is a Perth-based writer who shrouds himself in mystery. Asked for biographical details, he points like a mute to his blog, The Boomtown Rap, which he describes thus: "wide-ranging, acerbic, uneven and somewhat schizoid ... but leavened by wit, I hope. That's my blog and that's me."

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