I think, sometimes, when you’re in love with language, and have had a long and passionate affair with it, it has the propensity to turn around and bite you in the ass when you least expect it – often when it’s used by someone else in a manner which is somewhat unwieldy.
[Before we continue – yes, this is going to be one of *those* posts, where a writer who thinks herself somewhat good with words waxes lyrical about language and its subtleties and nuance, and hopes you find it fascinating and insightful (feel free to find it neither of those things – you might hate this, and in fact, if you hate this and I can somehow still engage you, I shall consider it something of a personal triumph, so here’s hoping you give me the chance to ‘wow’ you with the levels of self-absorbed I can achieve)]
My latest language issue is with superlatives.
We all know those, right? Those delightful treasures of language that let you know that there is no-one ‘-er’ than you, because you are the embodiment of the absolute pinnacle of whatever wonderful attribute has been ascribed to you. No-one is happier than you – you are the happiest; no-one is prettier than you – you are the prettiest; no-one is more arrogant than you – you are the arrogantest.
(Okay, I made that last one up. It should be ‘more arrogant’, but in addition to waxing lyrical I also like to play with words and it’s my blog and I’d like to see you try and stop me *pokes out tongue*)
Let me hone: my latest language issue is with superlatives which are flung about with gay abandon, like confetti, sprinkling their recipient with all the glitz and glamour of a night on the red carpet…but here’s the thing – it’s statistically improbable that you actually are the embodiment of whichever absolute pinnacle has been shunted in your direction by a well-meaning but inaccurate fan (I mean, I’ll allow for the possibility that you might be, but the chances are pretty small (sorry)), and all of a sudden a lot of the ‘oomph’ of that glitz and glamour takes on the hues of a wet Tuesday afternoon, because somehow your superlative smacks of well-meant placation.
Because, let’s face it, it probably doesn’t belong to you – it’s misplaced enthusiasm on the part of the speaker. It’s delightfully gushy, for sure, but you’re left with a nagging feeling that perhaps this is something they say to a lot of people; perhaps it’s a standard response they use when they really mean “I like [such and such that you did/are] a whole heap, and I want to praise that in a way which means I don’t have to take time to unpick it or say anything particularly meaningful”.
The risk is run, then, because either you receive an insincere (though well-intentioned) compliment and feel disappointed that you weren’t thought of highly enough to receive a considered one; or you believe them – believe that they truly think with their whole heart that there is no-one ‘-er’ than you, and you’re on top of the world and loving your pedestal, when you round a corner of life and find that your champion has said the exact same thing to another person. Or another five. Or five hundred. And that really they were just excited and wanted to share that with you, and wanted you to feel happy, and you feel like a bit of a mug for believing them.
And this is the part where I (as ever) run the gauntlet and risk offending people who throw around “You’re the most awesome EVER!” or “You’re the best” as though they were roses after curtain-down.
It’s misleading. It’s a throwaway compliment designed to placate and demonstrate the dizzying heights of a feeling which you might have for someone else, ten minutes later. It’s the linguistic equivalent of being loved by a golden retriever – intense and beautiSQUIRREL!!
And you’re gone, leaving the object of your brief moment of endorsement rather…sidelined and wondering if you meant it.
I’m sure it’s well intentioned, and perhaps just an oversight. It’s easy to get carried away with enthusiasm, and to be fair, in this world between the wires where language can mean nothing or everything, and all the bits in between, it’s probably unfair to ask for more exacting standards. Goodness knows I should just be grateful that you took the time to offer feedback.
But I’m greedy, I want more (always!): I want to know why you feel that way. What precisely was it that made you think that (for however brief a time) nothing was ‘-er’ than that moment we just shared? What got you thinking? What delighted you?
Tell me, so I can replicate it or improve it.
Because in this world between the wires, where language can mean nothing or everything (and all the bits in between), clarity is VITAL.
Particularly to me (and here, the heritage of my nit-pickiness) because growing up, there was so much negativity aimed in my direction, that my child’s brain believed, that positives (especially the grander ones) just slid off me; couldn’t possibly belong to me; were just expressions of enthusiasm but nothing really to do with me; were totally unattainable For Real, so were things I ignored, because the pain of knowing I could never match up to the good things was too great.
So when I see a rapid “You’re the BEST” sent in someone’s direction, it irks me. It doesn’t get said to me often (which is good) but I just want to make you think for a moment – you can’t let me (or whoever) know, through all the non-verbal signals [which make up 55% – 80% of human communication, and bear in mind that written communication is already a step below verbal*] the extent of your reaction to whatever it is that’s been put out there.
The only tool for understanding your thoughts, is language, with all its subtleties and nuances and beautiful moments of succinctness as long as you use them…
And I want to know (I really do) that I’m getting it right for you.
So before you respond, just…think about it?
*I can totally vouch for the incredible power of spoken words over written, even without the accompanying non-verbal communication, because one of the things which MOST made my Blogosphere friendships come alive and suddenly veryvery REAL, was the introduction (to me) of voice messages via Facebook and WhatsApp – the capability to actually TALK with the people whose hearts and souls I’d been busy falling in love with in writing, sent these relationships into an entirely new orbit, and in many cases, cemented them forever. For this I have to thank Mandi, who first showed me how to send voice, and forever changed things for so, so much the better.