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Delightful Umbrage. Warmest Disdain.

Posted by Dirck on 12 December, 2013

While the taste of yesterday’s outrage is still in my mouth (and it is, I’m delighted to find in today’s news, shared by many others a mare usque ad mare and points north), let me paddle off down another course of societal collapse– the cheapening of the coin of expression.  I promise it’s only a short rant.

The cheapening I have in mind is the sort in which people seeking to emphasize a matter fish around for words that should be left for weightier things.  I’m old enough to remember a time when “impact” was reserved almost entirely to describe a physical interaction (the impact of asteroid on planet, for example, or of fist against chin) with very infrequent excursions to indicate something so emotionally overwhelming that the effects were nearly the same.  “Impact” now is so over-used it has no juice left in it, and it might as well be a mere synonym of “effect”.  “Awesome” and “awful” are other examples, erstwhile synonyms which parted ways a long time ago but which only in the past generation did the former turn into a mere approbation– what word shall we use now if we see a mountain walking?

Today’s example is in the same camp as “awesome,” since it is not only cheapening but is actually overturning the original meaning of the word.  There is a company which I will coyly not name– they make car batteries, and their name sounds very much like dying without leaving a will– whose slogan is evidently the work of an ad-man with little grasp of the language and access to a thesaurus.  Let me present that slogan as it appeared on the side of the truck I’ve just seen:

OUTRAGEOUSLY DEPENDABLE

I’m sure that they didn’t mean to imply that the dependability of their batteries is such that buyers will be driven into a fury of anger.  I’m sure what they meant was that these batteries are the zenith of reliability.  Oh, wait, “zenith” got used by some other company, right?  And of course “apogee”, “summit”, “paramount”, and “sans pareil” are all out for having been used elsewhere or being slightly incomprehensible to the modern buying public.  I think I might even look more happily upon “awesomely dependable” since awe’s underpinning in a brush with the numinous has more room for a positive inclination than does being put on the far side of rage.

Dictionaries are, of course, descriptive rather than proscriptive.  At least, that’s the way it is in English.  Sometimes I do pine for a slightly silly body like the L’Academie Française to materialize and apply its powers to our dictionaries, that we might be somewhat spared the loss of diversity of meaning in the vast vocabulary of English.  A little ossification, perhaps, but balanced out by keeping a greater subtlety of expression available.   Yes, indeed, that would be way super wicked.  Outrageously awesome.  To the max.

Today’s pen: Pelikan 120
Today’s ink: Pelikan Brilliant Brown

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2 Responses to “Delightful Umbrage. Warmest Disdain.”

  1. I am very guilty of using the word “awesome” to death. And not in its proper meaning and context.

    I’m surprised nobody has co-opted “Ne plus ultra” for their own marketing use, frankly.

    • I also fall into the Awesome trap; I blame television.

      “Ne plus ultra” and “sine qua non” almost made it into the fourth paragraph. The former I view as hilarious, as it was the name of a piece of self-destructive perfomance art heard on “The Great Eastern”– http://gporter.net/great/index.php

      edit: AH HAH! Season two, episode seven. Comedy gold from Newfoundland!

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