Thursday, March 25, 2010


I've been thinking a lot about language lately. Specifically, the application of language as a descriptive entity, and how overdoing it (aka hyperbole) can cause the language to lose its meaning. Language is our primary means of communication. It has served us well over the course of our history, although its (improper or callous) usage can also lead to problems of understanding. It can be problematic when you have a problem of interpretation, either due to a language barrier, or a failure on the speakers' part to speak with clarity or accuracy and consistency.

One such failure on the part of a speaker is the use of hyperbole. Hyperbole is basically exaggeration. Take for example, the word ''starving.'' What does it mean to be ''starving?'' Well, according to Wikipedia, starvation is a severe reduction in vitamin, nutrient and energy intake. It is the most extreme form of malnutrition. In humans, prolonged starvation can cause permanent organ damage[citation needed] and eventually, death.

Here is a picture of a poor little girl suffering the effects of starvation:

Tell me, how many of you look like that?

Nor do I.

Yet, I, and probably most of you, have, at some point or another, said the words ''I'm starving.'' Most of us probably say this at least once during the course of a normal week. I usually phrase it as such: ''Man, I'm fuckin starving!'' Tell me, does being hungry due to a lack of food intake for the last few hours actually qualify as starving?

Tell me, are we actually starving, or just hungry?

How about when it comes to pain? How often you you say that your such and such is ''killing you?'' ''Oh man, my back is killing me!'' Tell me, does back soreness due to odd sleeping position actually qualify as killing you?

What's my point? Well, if mild-moderate back pain and mild-moderate hunger qualify as ''killing'' you and starvation, respectively, then what the fuck do you call severe pain and type of hunger represented by that above picture? Do we invent new words for those? Are we actually equating these scenarios? Can we stretch the words that thin?

Other examples of this that seem to be happening more and more frequently these days are the words socialism, socialist, communism, communist, fascism, fascist and Nazi being thrown around by both the American media and the American people, almost always being applied to their president, Barack Obama, and his policies. I think these are quite clearly examples of words being tossed around to such a hyperbolas (is that a word? I dunno, if not, it is now!) degree that they are losing their meaning. I mean, really, if Obama is a fascist, then what the fuck do you call Benito Mussolini? I mean really, are you going to equate the two men? Any sane, rational person would hopefully be exorbitantly reluctant to do so. Yet people do.

The previous examples also exemplify how language can be used to elicit emotions in people, and, specifically in those examples, emotions that are misaligned. Obama is a not a fascist, and when you convince someone that he is, you end up causing someone to be afraid of something that warrants or merits no such fear. This is why I believe people need to be a little more careful with their usage of rhetorical devices like hyperbole, and just language in general. So, next time you have a mild headache, say that your head hurts. Not that it's killing you. Otherwise, what will the people dying of brain cancer say? I have a super duper killer headache?

Okay, so that last bit was me being facetious, but I hope you get my drift (so to speak).


  1. "Hyperbolas" actually is a word, but it's not an adjective. It's the plural form of the noun "hyperbola," which is a math term. ^_^b The adjective form for "hyperbole" is "hyperbolic," which interestingly is also the adjective for "hyperbola."

    Anyway, I'm also guilty of using "starving" and "killing" in those same hyperbolic contexts that you described. I'd like to think I don't misuse them like that as much as the next guy, mostly because I'm not one to complain like that. :P

    As for "fascism" and "socialism" and all that, I've heard those words being tossed around as casually as a Frisbee lately too, "socialism" especially, for a while now. I know of people who didn't vote for Obama because they thought he'd turn our country socialist. The crap with the health care bill lately has only intensified all the socialism banter that's been going on since the election...

  2. Thanks for the correction (and of course you bring math into it lol).

    I am totally guilty of it as well, although for more serious pain, due to my illnesses. Still, I am hypberbolic.

    Thanks for the comment.


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