Omigod. Wowwwwww! Fantasssstic!

The above words are common in everyday American English; though they sound extreme, their meaning could actually be more equivalent to “Oh!” or “Cool” or “Great”. Americans tend to like the extra feeling and verbal sizzle in informal communication.

But word inflation is not yet global. An “Amazing” in the U.S., might be just a “Really Good” in Chinese or Italian.

Yet such hyperbole — or exaggerated speech — is absolutely necessary in American English if you want to sound positive or enthusiastic or otherwise make yourself clear. Without that extra assurance, you might leave the wrong impression.

For instance, if you ask a friend how the movie was, and the response is a mere “interesting” or “good,” the movie could be perceived as “boring.”

If a colleague asks you how the meeting went and you say, “It was fine,” such a response could be interpreted as, “the usual waste of time.”

Americans like BIG. Even Bigger than Big. We are a big country and we’re used to immoderation and overindulgence — so excess fits easily into our language as well:

Fifty years ago Burger King invented the Whopper and the slogan, “The bigger the burger, the better the burger …” which today could be a verbal metaphor for our love of all things big and grandiose.

A typical work exchange:

“How did the meeting go?”

“Awesome!” (or) “Fu*king brutal”

The rare response would be “really interesting,” or simply, “It was dull.”

A French a student of mine, one who recently started as a French teacher at a New York private school, asked why she was taken to task for writing on a student’s report card, “Jennifer is doing a satisfactory job this semester.” It was easy for me to spot the sting of the word, “satisfactory.”

In French, “satisfactory” converts to “fine,” which means “good,” which actually means, “pretty good” (though not “great”). In English, however, “satisfactory” is comparable to average — and average is only slightly better than below average. And Americans tend not to like “below average.” We need extra — preferably strong or sweet.

A Mexican student, an IT executive at a multinational, observed that “everything in English is ‘amazing!’” Amazing, like “awesome,” has grown in popularity to become a one-size-fits-all sort of adjective, whether describing a candy bar; a tweet; a phone call; or a Netflix series. You name it and it is probably “amazing” or “awesome” (though not often used in the same context).

When I texted a friend that I was writing about hyperbole in everyday English, she texted back, “What an incredibly interesting idea! So cool”— with accompanying emojis for effect. Rather than sounding ironic or overblown, her response was a perfect gentle push of encouragement — just as it was intended.

If you have questions or doubts about grammar, why not sign up for a free 20-minute consultation call with Louise to talk about how you can improve your English!

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