“Absolutely!” has been the buzzword answer for the last decade.
The news anchor asks the weatherman standing on location if it is raining and the reply is “Absolutely!” Ask the commentator if the governor vetoed the bill and the answer is “absolutely!”
Why not a simple “Yes”?
In this age of competition for our attention, much of our media seems to be going to the extremes in language to make everything the best...or the worst.
So far this year I have edited 45 scientific papers, mostly descriptions of new insect species, and I automatically strike out any use of “very.” There is rarely any need to use “very.” “Very black” is “black.” “Very long” is “long.” If an author is going to make a distinction between black and very black, I had better be seeing some data on different light absorbency. Science is very careful about being accurate (matching reality) and precise (using measurements that are finely detailed.)
This frustrates journalists when they interview scientists. A reporter asks a new Nobel-prizewinner: “So your discovery of protein-folding diseases will revolutionize our treatment of mad cow disease and cure Alzheimer’s?” and the scientist waves frantically to qualify the narrow limitations of his research: “No, no! Only in this specific case, and under these specific conditions does such-and-such happen.”
But public relations staff generate a tidal wave of exaggeration. Every college and university with a molecular biologist on staff has probably had PR staff write the headline “University Professor Cures Cancer.” In truth, some small pathway only distantly related to tumors was researched. But “Perception is Reality” is the PR motto and intensives are their favorite tool.
And nearly every politician makes the mistake of proclaiming “The American people (or Kansans) are behind me when I say such-and-such” when actually the politician was elected by 51 percent of the 30 percent of persons who voted. In other words, his “mandate” (if the issue was a major factor in his election) reflects about 16 percent of the people. Yet he claims his position represents the views of everybody. He is not “absolutely” wrong. He is 16 percent right. We just do not know where the 84 percent of folks not represented stand.
Being more accurate and precise, and avoiding “intensives” is a symptom of being more educated and aware of a more complex world. As children, we all start out viewing our local neighborhood in a simplistic manner. Then you go away to college and talk with classmates from other towns, other states, other nations. Life is not so simple after all. Go back home that first Thanksgiving vacation and meet up again with classmates who didn’t leave town. It can be awkward. You now see life is more complicated. Less black-and-white. More shades of gray.
But could a person who portrays the real world in its complexity and who does not exaggerate what is possible ever get elected? Will we vote for a person who will work towards (but not promise) small improvements, or a blowhard who promises massive but impossible gains? History usually indicates that intensive language wins.
Most of us probably can recall a classmate in school who was fond of using the most intensive “F-word” at every opportunity to describe trivial and minor events. As a youngster, I remember thinking, what would this poor classmate ever have left to say if something big finally did occur that merited his over-used expletive? Since he had used the most intensive term so often for everyday events, it was humorous to think that maybe, he would be left speechless.