I passed a drab little row of beige boxes labeled “The Flair Apartments” and wondered at the joke. The Flair? Did those who christened the cubicles even know what the word means? Unless they’d been painted in bright colors (perhaps with polka-dots or stripes), the word was completely out-of-place.
I find that in writing, too. The fancy literary word for it is hyperbole–meaning an exaggeration, usually done for comic effect. Too often, however, writers simply aren’t paying attention. The result is that their content rings about as true as beige boxes labeled “flair”. Consider the usage of absolutes and superlatives.
Words like always, never, every, none and all are called absolutes. These words are highly overused.
Louise always comes late. (Really? What about last Wednesday?)
You never listen to me! (Just because we hear that one often doesn’t mean it’s true.)
But Mom! Everyone is going to be at that party! (When it’s really only half the senior class.)
Of course, sometimes the absolute is exactly what we want to say:
You should never serve Liquid Drano to your dinner guests.
No one came to the 1st Annual Piranha Festival, so the mayor cancelled the event.
All the cookies are gone and I now have a horrendous stomach ache.
Superlatives are those -est words and their ilk. These show up in commercials regularly:
The Blitz is the finest sports sedan in its class.
Stud Cologne is the fastest chick-magnet in history.
Your kids will call you the greatest mom of the century if you by them Boppo Pops for breakfast.
You’ll note that these are opinion statements. Superlatives really work best when they are talking about actual facts wherein the estness of the thing cannot be disputed.
I am the shortest person in my class.
Bart had the fastest time in the marathon.
Governor Studmuffin won the highest number of votes on Tuesday.
There now, wasn’t that the absolute best ever explanation of why you should be careful not to exaggerate unintentionally?