Language dilution

“As humans, we waste the shit out of our words. It’s sad. We use words like “awesome” and “wonderful” like they’re candy. It was awesome? Really? It inspired awe? It was wonderful? Are you serious? It was full of wonder? You use the word “amazing” to describe a goddamn sandwich at Wendy’s. What’s going to happen on your wedding day, or when your first child is born? How will you describe it? You already wasted “amazing” on a fucking sandwich.”

– Louis C.K.

I have heard people complain about this. It’s a disease of Silicon Valley especially, where companies hire “amazing software engineers” and VPs have been known to be “super excited” for more than 4 hours.

To answer his questions honestly, I think my wedding day will need only the words “tiresome, loud, uncomfortable” and perhaps “aching feet, frozen smile-face.” The birth of my first child will require mostly “exhausting, bloody, excruciating” — so it’s really fine that I’ve already used “amazing” and “wonderful” for Tartine’s ham and cheese croissant — because that is the experience (out of these three) that actually deserves those words.

The trouble is that words take on connotations based on the social group using them. It’s perfectly acceptable to use diluted terms like “awesome” to describe soup because everyone else does. It conveys the appropriate meaning. Since no one here uses it to mean “that which inspires awe”, it would be strange to use it in that way. This is nothing new. In fact, Louis C.K.’s rant is a complaint about the evolution of language.

I am not against dilution because it results in people having to be more creative when they do mean that they saw something awe inspiring that filled them with wonder. They have to be descriptive because they know those two words are parlayed roughly as being between “quite good” and “not bad” on the scale of Britishisms.

Because I can’t use a word like “wonderful” to describe how I feel, I have to say things like “his beauty made me feel like I had a soul.” Or “the fine detail in the gallery made me cry, overwhelmed by the dedication and tenderness that must have gone in to each gold-leafed flourish.” A few more words, sure. But much more descriptive. It’s better this way — we can’t be lazy and just pick up the words that have already been strewn about, expecting them to do the important job of imprinting our feelings on the minds of others.

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