The Lazy World of the Easy Adjective

After a series of posts about the subject of euthanasia, I think it is time to return to the world of words for a while, so I will start with a small bugbear of mine that illustrates a larger and more troublesome point.

Despite the English language containing more words than any other, there is a growing trend of adjectival indolence in everyday parlance. No longer is scenery described as picturesque and lovely on a small scale, or striking and majestic on a grand scale. All landscapes are now ‘stunning’, from mountains to farmland to garden ponds.

Similarly, anything positive is now ‘amazing’, while anything even faintly negative is ‘devastating’. An extensive array of valid adjectives has been dropped into the waste basket when it comes to daily usage. Perhaps this is due to fashion, where people want to use the few words that everyone else is using, or because of the extra effort required to sift through our inherited lexicon to find the best description. In a world where every lost second means less time to take a photo and send a message, who wants to spend time finding the right adjective when an easy catch-all is available? It may seem a trivial point, but how much are we losing when we choose to join in with any form of collective laziness?

The purpose of language is to communicate ideas, and such thoughts can be subtle and nuanced, so a rich lexicon is of great value in this task. Admittedly, if we reduce our vocabulary down to a few catch-all adjectives and stock phrases, we can still communicate at a perfunctory level and get through the day, but life is about more than doing just that. The best ideas should inspire us, provoke us, unsettle us, amuse us, or any combination of the above, but a truncated vocabulary does no service to this cause. So the next time you are about to describe something as ‘amazing’, pause for a moment and think about all the other adjectives you could use. The Grand Canyon is amazing, but most other things are not. The English language is amazing, especially when used to its full potential.

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