Thursday, July 12, 2012

Remember when superlatives were ... super?

I am guilty. I use superlatives the way some people use the "Like" button on Facebook. I need to stop. We all need to stop. Is EVERYTHING "incredible," "amazing," or "absolutely the best ever?" No. But, because we throw those words around, we have actually deflated the meanings of those words to the point that they are sometimes just words. Heck, we might not even "see" them when we read something - we have become so accustomed to having them thrown into our everyday language that we simply ignore them.

I don't even remember how I found the page I am about to share with you, but the entire reason I clicked on it was because I knew I disagreed with the headline even before I read the story. The story? "40 of the Most Powerful Photographs Ever Taken."

Now, much like I do myself, at least the author had the good sense to off-handedly qualify the article.  "Of the" has become the universal cop-out. A helper phrase, if you will.  Even I recently shared a link in which I said, "This is one of the funniest... I have ever read." I actually used two qualifiers there: "of the" and "that I."  "Of the" gets me off the hook period. There could be billions of funny things (or in the care of the article I am going to share, photographs) out there, but with a little "of the" thrown in, you can agree or not - but really, how could you disagree? It says that out of all the (whatevers), here is a selection, a handful, ONE of the (superlative) of those.

My other out, and one I actually condone, is the use of "that I."  That phrase communicates my OPINION. Without it, I thrust myself out there like some authority figure on a particular subject and immediately people are going to raise up their shields.  With out "that I," an article offers an immediate challenge to potential readers. The challenge? Or the response? The same I one had regarding the photographs: "Oh yeah, I bet I don't think so." Or, perhaps a softer, "Well, maybe they are SOME of those (whatevers) but I know of others..."

Think about it: 40 of the BEST love songs. 22 of the greatest quotes.

The real downfall to superlative overuse/misuse comes with words like "EVER!" Ever? Really? In the history of time, these are the (superlative) (whatevers) EVER?! I doubt it. And, yes, I am fully aware that I used the word when I shared a link adding "funniest..I have ever read." I told you I'm guilty.

But, change is not easy. We must first recognize the fact we are doing something that needs to be changed. Then, we take little steps to correct the action. Finally, we wean ourselves from it.

So, the article that started this whole train of thought? 40 photographs. Are they the MOST POWERFUL EVER taken? Sure, most of them are likely to evoke some kind of emotion, but are they the top 40? I don't think so.  Of course, the author made sure *NOT* to use the word "THE" in the headline. These aren't THE 40 Most Powerful, they are just 40 of the most powerful.  And what about "powerful?" What does that mean? How I define a photograph to represent something powerful will surely be different than what you use as the benchmark of a "powerful" photograph.  Just like my own use of "funniest" - you may have a completely different sense of humor than I do (and, most likely you do, since mine is pretty warped).

In any case, enjoy the photos and decide for yourself just how superlative they are:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/expresident/most-powerful-photographs-ever-taken

And "one of the funniest posts I have ever read?" It's right here:
http://cartbeforethehorse.blogspot.com/2012/07/calculated-fun.html

Feel free to comment. If the goofy comment gadget is working.

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