The English-speaking world is being polluted by hyperbole. Every day it is used a trillion times too often, if you see what I mean.
In a crowded world with an abundance of every type of information streamed and snapchatted and old when it happened half an hour ago, the preponderance of hyperbole is an effort to gain attention. People say “disaster” when they mean incident, “tragic” when they mean a little sad, and “panic” when they mean vexation.
Smartphones are largely to blame, but the use of exaggeration has spread to news outlets which should know better.
I often suspect that what is termed “snow chaos” in these parts would be a “light dusting” to a Norwegian. And that some “traffic gridlocks” could be better described as a medium-sized queue of cars. A heartbreak is a temporarily lost cat, a pile-up is three dented bumpers, and a pandemic is a few cases of the sniffles.
Reporters, and I believe radio and TV correspondents are worse than print journalists, reach for ever more dramatic adjectives to pepper their spoken pieces.
Print journalists, with those of The Courier a good example, take a soberer approach.
But outwith these august pages it isn’t uncommon to read about a “wind maelstrom” (quite a blowy day); a “tidal surge” (several biggish waves); or a “worldwide security lockdown” (for events in Syria which do not result in armed police stopping me visiting the Co-op).
I heard a radio report recently that used the phrase “terror from the skies” to describe a seagull that was squawking loudly.
The aim of reporting news should be to give clear, accurate and balanced information.
There might not be a need for adjectives at all. In many cases, the facts could be left to speak for themselves.
I’m far from the first to complain of this. Aesop’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf is intended to show that a proven liar will never again be believed, but a serial exaggerator would have similar problems to the shepherd boy in the fable.
There is a genuine danger in all of this. Sometimes extremely serious events must be reported. Terrible things happen in the world. But if we’ve used our most dramatic words on irked sea birds, what do we have left to describe something that really is a calamity?
Word of the week
Of or relating to scurvy. E.G. “Despite his mother’s hyperbolic claims, little Timothy’s rash turned out to not be scorbutic.”.
Read the latest Oh my word! every Saturday in The Courier. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org