The Best of Andy Rooney
(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Feb. 14, 1987.)
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 comments 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 it 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, "The United States faces its worst crisis in this decade." When local police find cocaine in someone's apartment, it's 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 newspapers, games are hardly ever simply "won." Michigan "crushes"
The word "awesome" gets a lot of play, too. Book reviewers and movie critics never seem to read or see anything that's average. Books are "brilliant" or "trash."
A movie may be either "provocative," "superb drama," or "spectacular." Nearly every movie I see advertised these days is called "one of the year's 10 best." No comedy is ever "funny" anymore; at the very least, it's "hilarious." It may also be called "a sheer delight." You wouldn't want to see a movie that was just a plain "delight," without being a "sheer" one.
One movie being advertised now is called "a raucous rib-tickler; Steve Martin is savagely funny; one of the year's 10 best films." 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 reviewers 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, the reductions are described as "once-in-a-lifetime bargains!!!" For some reason, it seems more acceptable for a commercial enterprise, like a store or 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 ordinary, everyday conversation between friends has degenerated to the point where the frequent and thoughtless use of the superlative in every description as a trick to attract our attention has lessened the importance of language generally.
Thank you very, very much for listening, readers. You're the greatest!!
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