Across the spectrum, folks have their favorites. From football teams and movies to good girls and bad boys, we know what takes our fancy.
Vocabulary enthusiasts—word nerds, so to speak—have our favorites, too. One of mine is “hyperbole.” I don’t remember when I first encountered this lovely word, but it certainly wasn’t in conversation. In fact, many of us have our personal lexicons expanded through reading. Learning new words through context or having to look them up is a good way to take our verbal communication to a higher level.
That’s how I picked up “hyperbole,” through seeing it in text and discerning its meaning through context. Had I gone one step further and consulted Miss Merriam Webster, I would have found out sooner that the pronunciation of my new favorite word didn’t match what would otherwise be expected.
For whatever reason, I didn’t embarrass myself by ever saying HYE-per-bol—with a long “o”—before finding out that this misbehaving word is four, not three syllables, and has the accent on the second rather than the first syllable. This discovery made me love the word even more, but not because of some society of word nerds with a secret. “Hyperbole” was like me—what was in fact correct was not what was in fact expected.
These days, I hear it most frequently trotted out by the doctorate holding, Stanford and Oxford educated, Rachel Maddow. While she is not everyone’s cup of tea, she has a special place in my heart for her prodigious use of my word favorite. In addition, she and her guests have inspired a word nerd game that Karl and I play, similar to one of those drinking games, that we call “Words One Hears on Rachel Maddow But Never on Fox.”
While CNN, Fox, and the rest of MSNBC regularly engage in the use of hyperbole to describe everything that is happening in the world, Ms. Maddow acknowledges that what she is about to say isn’t hyperbole before saying something that comes in dangerously close to being exactly that. In her defense, we do live in rather extreme times, at least for us in the U. S., so it is difficult to be accurate while avoiding what sounds like exaggeration.
On the two sides of the linear political spectrum, there are those who think the United States is about to throw itself off a cliff into a dystopian hell, envisioned by Margaret Atwood or Karl Marx depending on one’s ideological bent. Considering that a dystopian society is populated with fearful, dehumanized individuals, one has to wonder why so many are creating their own dystopia while the sun is still shining, although in a cloudy sky.
Speaking of fearful, dehumanized individuals, the word out of the nation’s capital seems to be that the Democratic party is engaged in a battle within itself that will define the entirety of the Biden administration. At least that’s the word that the mainstream media is putting out, which may be the case or just a way to keep us tuning in for the latest developments. (I’ve interrupted my writing of this column twice to turn on the news to see how Nancy Pelosi’s day is going.)
I heard one talking head say that a failure to achieve the legislative goals of the Biden agenda will effectively end his presidency. Really? I love hyperbole, the word, but some of these folks are starting to get on my last nerve.
Political news during the Trump administration was rarely about his legislative priorities, primarily because he didn’t have many. We have to go back to the Obama administration to recall what it looks like to watch the daily back and forth of how legislation is negotiated. It’s never pretty, especially when Democrats are in charge.
Several years ago, Karl called me a luddite, which made me very angry. Not because I am one—broadly speaking—but because I didn’t know what he meant. But I am resistant to change, particularly of the technological variety, which is partly the reason the use of hyperbole irritates the bejesus out of me when I’m interested in accuracy and completeness rather than the hair-on-fire hysterics of a commentator, regardless of political bent.
So for Chris Hayes, Tucker Carlson, and sometimes even our own Anderson Cooper, I propose getting to know another of my word favorites. “Litotes” doesn’t rhyme with “totes,” providing an unexpected pronunciation and extra points. It’s a particular form of understatement that you guys could employ. For example, this isn’t the end of the world, these aren’t the worst of times, and Joe Manchin isn’t a bad politician. It’s not that hard. Really, not hard at all.