Repetition can be a fantastic tool for a writer. But more often it’s a hideous beast that degrades the quality and effectiveness of whatever is being repeated. Writers should develop their style to include a variety of methods for constructing sentences, paragraphs, even chapters; so that each moment feels fresh to a reader’s eyes.
Yet, no matter what we writers do, much of the English language has been eroded on many different fronts. Consider the word ‘revolution’ and its oft-used adjective form, ‘revolutionary.’ This word had been thoroughly miniaturized by the advertising industry. One ad campaign comes to mind; “Chevrolet is an American Revolution.” Give me a break! How many times have you heard “…revolutionary new product” on the radio or television.
Think about what the advertisements are saying. Can a new chemical cleaner really be so different and helpful that it qualifies as a revolution? Perhaps only in the cleaning industry, but if that were the case, the industry would be experiencing a new revolution every six months, so the changes aren’t revolutions at all but mere, common steps. If change rolls that quickly, then such massive change is the way of life and not the exception.
Yet, we hear the word revolutionary implemented as an attempt by advertising agencies to promote a product above the others (who also use the word revolutionary to describe their products). I doubt the campaign would work, but if a company came out and said, “Look, we know this new product won’t change everything about your life, but it is a great product and it’s better than the competitor’s version;” it would catch my attention.
Revolution means something different now. It doesn’t mean nearly as much change as it once did. It used to entail a massive upheaval, a thoroughgoing, unavoidable recasting of every aspect of a particular realm of life, sometimes all of life. Nowadays, it can mean only an incremental improvement and nothing more. Thus, the word holds far less weight in the average mind and we writers are further strained in trying to emphasize our points.
Of course, the obvious examples of words diluted of their meaning by over-usage would have to be swears. In the interest of promoting their strength of meaning and to preserve my image, I’ll leave the linguistic strain of our culture’s over-swearing to each reader’s own analysis.
C.S. Lewis commented on the decline of the word ‘gentleman,’ and noted that it once made a statement about social class. But instead of using it to refer to what someone is, people began to use the term as a way to praise or insult; in effect transferring the purpose of the word from conveying a level of class to conveying how they think that class ought behave. Instead of indicating that a man has a coat of arms, the term was used as a mere opinion. It no longer carried objective information; it carried pure subjection.
Surely this is part of the evolution of language and so is unavoidable, at least in some part. But certainly, with a decline in power of some words, others need to be created to take their place. Otherwise, we face the circumstance of emphasizing uncommonality through a bird-shot litany of formerly synonymous words, all diluted of late.
How about the term ‘amazing’ or ‘amazed?’ How often do we hear this term used? “That movie was amazing!” “This ravioli is amazing!” “I was amazed he would ask a question like that.”
Oh, please! To be amazed used to mean to stun beyond reasonability, to stun a person so fully as to bewilder them in a slew of sensory perceptions outside anything they have ever experienced before. I really doubt that so much of our experiences qualify (to us) as truly amazing. To be amazed has become defined down to be synonymous with the phrase ‘of note.’ And to say that the Grand Canyon is amazing no longer offers weight, because a listener who has never seen the Grand Canyon may think, ‘Amazing? So was that ravioli last night.’ The point is levels of experience. Seeing the Canyon, rest assured, is far beyond any meal experience you’ve ever had. I’ve seen it twice, and even undiluted words won’t nearly suffice.
So, ‘amazing’ isn’t quite the amazing word that it once was, and maybe with the increasing number and scale of experiences we may have in a technological society, that’s fine. But what words do we generate to offer for truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences? Everyone still has a first kiss. For some, the it is remarkable, for others it’s a wildfire of joy. But, you see, I can’t call my first kiss amazing, and not because it wasn’t, but because amazing simply does not convey the truth anymore. I’m forced into confounding myself or readers by referring to it as a “wildfire of joy.” Exactly what is that? With the addition of a greater number of words to convey the same thing, the risk of confusion is concurrently greater, given the higher amount of variability in multiple terms as opposed to one term.
We need to preserve the strength of some words, or establish new words which can properly offer the maximized experience or occurrence. Most of the time, we don’t even think about the word gentleman, but amazed and revolutionary are both actively dying and a host of other adjectives are following fast. Unfortunately, as each word becomes numbed in the minds of the hearer, other words will become targets, until those too are destroyed. People need to convey their experiences honestly, and be cautious about trying to enhance the zest.
I trust my writing ability to be able to overcome these things, but it seems that this might be a hill worth fighting for. For what little it will do, I write my books with an intention of slightly pushing back against the degradation of words. Not so much that the reader isn’t following what I write. But when something is notable, I don’t call it amazing or fantastic or unbelievable; I call it interesting or curious or simply… notable. Accurate terminology will support the structure of our language, and I think that’s what we all need to do.
An Unrelated Update:
Least of These has passed the 2000-downloads mark. No telling how many have read it, though I hope it’s more than half of those people. I’ve received a number of e-mails from people who enjoyed my fanfiction book. Haven’t yet had one from someone who disliked it, but then if someone dislikes a fanfiction book, it’s unlikely they’ll even finish reading it, much less fire off an email to a primarily-unknown author about it. No matter. 2000 downloads and very enthusiastic responses brighten my days. Thank you everyone who enjoyed it!