Superlative Inflation

Last week, a friend proposed a moratorium on the words “awesome” and “unique.”

This morning, I saw a new commercial from Maxwell House which attempts to re-brand “good” as a superlative. Apparently Good to the Last Drop was looking a little shabby.

While it has raged on for decades, the superlative arms race seems to have escalated in recent years as every message – from brands and from friends – fight each other for space in the crowded information landscape.

And it’s not only words being conscripted into this battle, but whole sentences or ways of phrasing. The art of click bait is changing the game and bringing superlative wars to a whole new level.

One weird trick…

You’ll never believe what happened next…

I don’t say this necessarily to complain. Being somewhat of a traditionalist, I’ll admit to favoring the idea of awesome being reserved for those rare moments of sheer awe – when you emerge from the wilderness to find a scenic vista overlooking a mile deep canyon which has been painstakingly carved over centuries by the mighty Colorado River.

But I’m also a strong believer in a living language. Words change, meanings change, and ways of talking change. And that’s okay.

I’ll throw an awesome for a cheap trick, and I’m not about to change that.

But I do think this superlative arms race is something we should all be aware of. Those of us who are communicators should choose our superlatives with care – mindful of the need to keep pace with the landscape, but cautious against accelerating the trend.

I count the exclamation points I put in every email.

I usually take a few out.

At the end of the day, I don’t care what words we use. I don’t care what sentence construction we use, or what punctuation we ultimately put at the end.

But I do care that we don’t lose a deep sense of wonder, of awe, at those truly remarkable and rare moments in life. When the world seems to stand still and you can’t help but be breathless, heart pounding in your ears, as you grasp for a word that could possibly describe the feeling that you feel.



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