It’s not always the content of what we say; it’s how we communicate it. Frequently, the reason we communicate is to try to convince someone to understand a topic or opinion from our point of view. The types of adjectives and adverbs we choose, affect the listeners’ or readers’ perception of us.
It is tempting to use superlatives as a conversational crutch. Habitual overuse of them can make us appear either melodramatic or dishonest. In either case, overuse of superlatives blunts the effectiveness of the message. Such use deprives the listener of specificity. If we say, for example, “that was the best cake I’ve ever eaten”, the declaration seems generic. Saying instead, “That chocolate cake was flavorful and tempting, I really enjoyed it.” Is complimentary and says why.
When we limit our description to mostly superlatives, we rob our vocabulary of variety. After awhile, describing experiences and things as “the most effing awesome thing ever” comes off as generic and unsatisfying speech.
An important aspect of superlative overuse is that we risk being judged as untrustworthy and dishonest. When we use such adjectives and adverbs too often our messages lose their impact. People will pay less attention to what we say.
It’s easy to innocently fall back on superlatives. I do so more frequently than I care to admit to myself. Perhaps that is an American behavior or more likely, laziness. Paying attention to how often I use them is something I need to work on. After all, I want to convey my message in a truthful, interesting manner. If I use certain, overblown descriptions too often people will take what I say and write with a grain of salt.
When we exaggerate or use hyperbole we overlook distinctions and reveal our lack of knowledge about a subject. Furthermore, if we use exaggerated language and promise to do the greatest things, we set ourselves up for unrealistic expectations. A certain unnamed politician comes to mind as an example of this. When the final results of our actions do not come up to the level of our promises, we disappoint others.
When we praise others or ourselves, we arouse curiosity and excitement in the listening or reading audience. How often have we been promised the lowest price ever for merchandise, but have been disappointed with the purchase? The price may have been lower than average, but the overall quality of the item may have been shoddy or less than anticipated. Both the person selling the item and the item itself have been cheapened.
In the real world, extraordinary experiences and things are rare. A better conversational approach is to understate rather than overstate. However, understating to the extreme is also a form of superlative–humble bragging. When evaluations are tempered with realistic, moderate descriptions, communication is more accurate and believable.
In the end, exaggeration is closely akin to lying. The overuse of superlatives and hyperbole jeopardizes our reputation for reliability, good sense, and honesty.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson. “The art of advertisement, after the American manner, has introduced into all our life such a lavish use of superlatives, that no standard of value whatever is intact.”