July 24: Exaggeration in Conversation

“Many have the habit of using the little, but significant words “never,” “always,” and the like, with a perfect looseness.”

Given some of the excesses that we so often see displayed on social media, this might be one helpful corrective, if taken to heart. It is also interesting, you know, to note that these problems, you know, are not at all new, you know. [sly grin]

Exaggeration in Conversation.
[excerpted from The Central Presbyterian, 3.30 (24 July 1858)

Exaggeration may be a vice in some other nations, for aught we know, but we are sure it is the besetting sin of our own. “The house was crammed to the ceiling,” we hear it reported, when the vacant seats would hold as many more. “The procession consisted of ten thousand well-dressed, respectable people,” yet when counted, there were after all but nineteen hundred and fifty persons all told there, and most of them were shabby fellows enough, some, indeed, just out of the penitentiary. Many have the habit of using the little, but significant words “never,” “always,” and the like, with a perfect looseness. “Jack, you are the laziest fellow existing, and never do any thing from morning to night,” whereas he had that very day, when this sweeping assertion was made, been running on nine errands for the complainant to the milliner, grocer, and dry goods store, besides tending the cradle two hours together, and answering the door-bell seven times, to tell callers that the lady had gone into the country, that is, was busy upstairs preparing a dress for some of the anniversaries. We overheard one individual charging another with making a thousand mistakes in a piece of writing, which did not, on investigation, contain more than five hundred words in all. Moreover, this man alleged, that a certain newspaper notoriously  carefully printed, “was always full of mistakes, the very worst, in this respect, in the whole country.” On being challenged to point them out, he did not find one, but protested that he could, give him time.

This hyperbole of speech runs into extravagance of conduct, but of this, nothing will now be said. Concerning this disagreeable trick of speech, it is to be remarked, that it defeats itself. One cannot be positive about the statements of a man who has superlatives perpetually on his tongue. Overcharged assertions are falsehoods, though they may not be lies, for the want of a malicious intent. But they wholly deprive the person employing them of all credit in his statements. He commits the very common mistake of destroying the vigor of his language by the intense and overwrought phrases which he thought would give it strength. The impression made by such a person is therefore feeble, his expression being received as sound and fury, signifying nothing. The way to affect by language, is to speak the truth in simplicity, nothing exaggerating, and setting down naught in a false light. Renounce this injurious habit, for it robs the language of its strength. When superlatives and intense expressions are made to do service on trivial occasions, nothing will be left for use at times when all the resources of the language will be required as vehicles for thoughts the most powerful, and emotions the most profound.

There is a species of exaggeration so bold, ingenious and extraordinary, as to deserve the name of wit. “His horse was not a circumstance to my Arthur in speed. Arthur outstripped him at once, and was so much faster than lightning is than a funeral.” This is not a very strong example that just occurs. It runs in the blood of certain families, and is a kind of efflorescence of the imagination not under judicious restraint. The mischief is that many believe they possess this sort of talent, as others think they can pun, when they cannot. The conversation of such persons, consequently, rarely or never rises higher than those pretenders to smart talk, who interlard all they have to say, sometimes composing the staple of it, with some current cant phrases. One of these has made a large part of some people’s talk for several years past; it is the phrase “you know.”

A gentleman of this school addressed us the other day somewhat as follows: “On my arrival at Washington, you know, I was sent for by the President, you know, who wanted to see me on a matter of importance. I did not suppose I should see Miss Lane, you know, but I was shown, you know, by express command of the President, into the drawing-room where she was. I found her as charming in conversation, you know, as she was fascinating in person,” etc. Now, I did not know any of those things, and what is more, I did not believe them; but such poor gabble as this prevails extensively. Gentlemen, and sometimes ladies, too, must have some cant word to bring in frequently to fill up, round off the style, and help them with its oar to scull along. Those who have the habit of profane swearing make use of the windy sails of oaths for this purpose, of which it must be said they are only worse than the everlasting “you know,” one hears in all companies.

Newark Advertiser.

Words to Live By:
33
“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’
34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,
35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.
[Matthew 5:33-37, NASB]

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