Top Shelf Words

It’s difficult to be a moderate.  It’s also difficult to be reasonable and measured in one’s speech.

Friends give me flack from time to time about the way I describe things.  The word that seems to get the most reaction from friends is “mediocre.”  I figure this is mostly tied to the similar word “mediocrity,” which is almost always used in the business world as a shorthand for stagnation and failure to innovate and improve, as opposed to “excellence” and “progress” and other such desirable things.

Yet I stand by “mediocre” and other mid-range words.  Not everything in life is amazing, but not everything has to be.  A perfectly made sandwich is still just a sandwich.  I would be concerned if I wasn’t capable such a simple act as spreading the peanut butter across the bread evenly, but on the flipside, achieving an even spread is nothing to write home about (or post to social media) either.  The bulk of everyday things and activities are the same; things so routine, mundane, and easily achievable that their performances cannot earn nearly as much regard as their failures.

Exaggeration, hyperbole, and outright lies have become the dominant mode of conversation as the result of a media-fueled arms-race of words.  The bulk of the adjectives we use now forms an inverse bell curve on the continuum of our language.  As Louis CK says, “we just go straight for the top shelf with our words now:”

Louis CK: Hilarious (44:00-45:35 and beyond)

And yet, the human brain, demonstrating its ability to adapt and compensate for distorted sensory inputs, is not really fooled.  We innately understand that an “amazing” basket of chicken wings and an “amazing” work of art are not truly on the same level.  Sensing the void in the center of the inverse bell curve, our brains snip out the center and bring the two extremes closer together in order to reconcile the extreme language with mundane reality.  This is how “sucks” and “great” have come to mean essentially the same thing; they are right next to each other on this figurative adjusted continuum of adjectives!

Jerry Seinfeld: Sucks & Great, the Exact Same Thing

This cultural-linguistic problem is one more facet that affects nearly every aspect of our lives and the ways we communicate with one another.  It is well-worth paying attention to and considering as a factor in understanding current events


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