Lately, I have been wondering whether communication could be improved by choosing my adjectives more in accordance to the fashion of the day.

For instance, to me “awesome” is a Saturn V launch and “amazing” might describe … actually I can’t for the life of me currently think of a good example of something amazing. Conversely, someone more in tune with modern jargon may think his pants are awesome and refer to his coffee as amazing. If he runs a couple of miles, why then that is amazing, and, well, a nice picture of his guitar, that would be awesome.

In most cases I would describe my emotional state as “content”. In most cases I feel pleased with the situation. It is “okay”. The status is “green”. However, in modern parlance, maybe I should really use the word “wonderful” or “fantastic” or “happy”?

See, the problem is one of scale. If we don’t use the same measuring stick or have the same understanding of adjectives, we can not really convey thoughts very well. What I usually do is to try to “normalize” a person’s statements. Thus if he “just went on an amazing run and then had an awesome cup of coffee”, then I conclude that “the wonderfully happy life” is actually simply an okay life being described by someone who is a somewhat easily impressionable?

Of course this second-guessing is hardly efficient: I try to say what I mean, and then you try to understand when I say, and then you try to understand what I mean based on your understanding of what I said which was based on my ability to express my meaning. Do we really need to complicate it with an additional step on my trying to say things so that you may more easily understand what I meant.

Or perhaps people do this all the time?

It’s called manipulation; or selling, depending on which side you’re on.

Jacob comments: The real issue is a break down of communications. Clearly there are two groups of communicators. Those that use a “(N)ormalized” language which is capable of describing the full range of impressions and those who use (H)yperbole and describe everything with the word “awesome”. An N is frequently disappointed by an H’s statements e.g. H talk about something amazing and it turns out to be his cat playing with a ball, say. Conversely, H’s would expect something to be seriously off if an N simply described an impression as “not bad” or “good”. Rationally speaking I can not imagine why having a normal range of language is not the best approach. After all, if you just said that youtube of someone playing a guitar was amazing, what are you going to say when you take off in SpaceShipOne? Amazing, again? Hyperboling everything may confer a short term advantage “Look at this stuff, it’s amazing”, but it surely has a long term cost not only in the richness of the language but more importantly, that people just stop taking your claims seriously. Perhaps this is easily remedied though, for instance, impressions that are more amazing than “your every day amazing” are now described as “sick”. Ow! I would have suggested adding “super-” or “superduper-” as in superduperamazing—I think that would have been awesome.

Originally posted 2010-02-16 00:07:31.