NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

October 8, 2012

A dearth of superlatives and other matters

Across our retinas and through our ears flows a continuous stream of news and ads illuminated from time to time by wonderful, amusing and stimulating word or phrase or unintended slip. In this column are a number that have struck me.

First, however, have you encountered a word problem that comes up all the time for me — finding a superlative to describe some extraordinary idea, situation or event? The fact is that I just cannot find words in the language to convey my feelings about a number of things. Where, for example, does one find words to express one’s revulsion at such deeds of the Taliban as the recent beheading of 17 Afghans for attending a party with music and the opposite sex? Savage, barbarian, cruel, inhuman are just a start. The flagitious crimes of these mindless ignoramuses beggar description and challenge credulity. Even if they fall short, these words are still better than Orwell’s “double plus ungood,” I suppose.

At the positive end of the scale are the more-than-wonderful technological developments — for example, the iPhone, at whose extraordinary capabilities one can only stare in disbelief. When I try to express my sentiments, I find that all the words that come to mind are shopworn and insufficient: “amazing,” “incredible,” “unbelievable” and “mind-boggling,” so I end up gasping out inarticulate noises instead. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” has some appeal, but it’s supersesquipedalian, and much too closely connected with Mary Poppins. Anyone have any ideas?

Of course, strong sentiments can often be expressed using quite simple words. Although not contributing much to rational discourse, former presidential candidate Pat Robertson expressed his views about the Equal Rights Amendment in these terse, unminced words: “It’s about a socialist, antifamily political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.”

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