The Best of Andy Rooney

There's so much competition for our attention that everyone is using up all our good superlatives to get it.

I say "using up" because there's just so often you can use a superlative before it loses its comparative effectiveness. Advertisers and salesmen of all kinds are describing things in ultimate terms in order to get us to buy.

Even friends talking together about everyday things describe them in superlatives. Here are some exchanges you're apt to hear: "How was your weekend?" "Terrific." A weekend experience is never described with any middle-ground adjectives like "good." If a weekend wasn't either "great" or "terrific," it was "a real disaster" or "the pits."

If you go out for dinner and you're asked the next day how the meal was, you say, "Absolutely delicious. The best I ever tasted." "How was the dessert?" "Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous."

In foreign affairs, nothing is merely a "problem." Everything is described as "a crisis in foreign affairs." Or, we're told, "The United States faces its worst crisis in this decade."

When local police find cocaine in someone's apartment, the case is usually described as "one of the biggest drug busts in history." Movie actors and good athletes are no longer mere stars; they're all superstars. Never mind that you never heard of them before.

Someone who's only a "star" is practically an unknown. Superstars play football in the Super Bowl. They're "world-class" athletes.

On television and in the newspapers, games are hardly ever simply "won." Michigan "crushes" Ohio State or Ohio State "destroys" Michigan.

A good play by an athlete is always described as "unbelievable." The word "awesome" gets a lot of play, too.

Book reviewers and movie critics don't ever seem to read or see anything that's average. Books are "brilliant" or "trash."

A movie may be either "provocative," "superb drama," or "spectacular." Every movie I see toward the end of the year is called "one of the year's 10 best."

No movie is ever simply "funny" anymore. The movie is at least "hilarious." The comedy also may be "a sheer delight." You wouldn't want to see a movie that was just a plain "delight," without being a "sheer" one. A new Steve Martin movie is being called "a raucous rib-tickler; Steve Martin is savagely funny."

Some serious movies are "haunting." A movie with dancers in it may be "dazzling" or "mind-boggling." The fact that most of us don't understand exactly what it would mean to have our mind "boggled" doesn't stop people from using the word. Movies also may be "stupendous" or "monumental in scope." The photography is "gorgeous" and chances are, the movie has been "brilliantly directed" by someone.

When a store has a sale, it doesn't simply "reduce" prices. Its prices are "drastically reduced!!!" Often, these reductions are described as "once in a lifetime bargains!!!" For some reason, it seems more acceptable for a commercial enterprise, like a store or a movie theater, to use nothing but superlatives in describing the things they're trying to sell.

We all know you have to take advertising with a grain of salt.

It seems too bad that our ordinary, everyday conversation between friends has degenerated to the point where the frequent and thoughtless use of the superlative has lessened the importance of language generally. Thank you very, very much for listening, readers.

(This classic Rooney column was originally published Feb. 14, 1987.)

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