Friday, June 4, 2010

In Praise of Sane Praise

There's a lot of gushing on the 'net these days. Blog writers and commenters alike seem to use superlatives like it's a competetive sport. And, once those are used up, subsequent commenters are left with ALL CAPS and multiple exclamation points (!!!!!) to express their approval (I cop to being guilty of this many a time).

In one sense, this trend is endearing; bloggers and commenters tend to be women, and this habit of praise speaks to our desire to befriend, to find common ground, mutual admiration, and acceptance. We want to be liked. (And lest you should feel demeaned or marginalized by this assessment, let it be said that there are a few out there who don't worry much about approval at all-I'm thinking Dooce).

But the overuse of praise and superlatives can be problematic, too. Overstating things can have the opposite effect; it can make the compliment seem insincere. My dentist recently called my oral hygiene "phenomenal", which was certainly overstating the matter to the point of absurdity.

While we mean well, not every person, writer, designer, idea, product, interview, or house tour can possibly be "phenomenal!!!", "stunning!!!", "hysterical!!!", or "brilliant!!!"

Overuse strips words and expressions of their original impact and meaning, and it becomes much more difficult to express sincere admiration. Take, for instance, the term "amazing". It just seems to fall flat these days, doesn't it? Everyone and everything is "amazing", and so there is no word left to describe the authentic feeling of amazement, should we be fortunate enough to truly experience it.

We went down that road with "love", and now we love everything, and it means almost nothing. Funny things, words. We don't think of them as something finite--a resource of meaning that can be used up--but they are.

So, it's my goal to use more sincere and accurate words to express my admiration and approval; of my children, friends, and other bloggers.

What do you think? Are certain words overused? Do you think we've all become dependent on being overpraised? What kinds of compliments really mean something to you?


  1. I have a blog. And honestly, as much as I love getting any and all comments, I tend to gloss over the "beautifuls, amazings, darlings" etc. Substantive content, positive or negative, pithy or verbose, is much more interesting.

  2. Anonymous,
    Yes, something specific to engage with--a point of view, for instance--makes conversation MUCH more interesting. But I'll gratefully take superlatives over the sound of crickets conversations aren't very stimulating either!

  3. yeah. totally. not just that, but we start saying things we would never otherwise say. "swoon"? really? SWOON?

  4. Jamie: Aaaargh, Swoon=Barf.
    I also keep seeing, "I die!"
    Who are we, saying these things?? It's like being at one long, bad babyshower with all the oohs & aahs.


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