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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 11-Sep-09

 


Friday 11-September-09

Super-duper-superlatives

Isn't it wonderfully brilliant how we so often describe things in such superb and glowing terms? Superlatives are fantastic adjectives that let us put really good emphasis on all sorts of splendid things, and, by goodness, we do make incredible use of them.

A key reason for this pattern comes from our deep need for a sense of identity, and the approach we take to gaining the admiration of others.. If we can make them shocked and amazed, then their intensified attention strokes our egos and makes us feel good.

This exaggeration easily turns into a game, either of mutual attention or competition for attention. You can see the effect in a group of excited gossipers as each describes wonderful or terrible things whilst others show suitably exaggerated amazement whilst waiting their turn.

Where there is competition (and even gossiping friends compete) , we end up trying to out-do others in the intensity of description. It's as if there is a kind of superlatives arms race. If you describe your interests in glowing terms, then I must use even more brilliant adjectives, which you in turn must out-do.

On the negative side, many self-destructive syndromes use intensified language. Therapist Albert Ellis, originator of Rational-Emotional Behavior Therapy (REBT), described a process known as 'awfulizing', where we tell ourselves how dreadful our lives are and how we absolutely must do certain things lest terrible consequences are received.

Another reason for this escalating exaggeration is our deep need is for stimulation. Whilst a superlative may satisfy this need for now, we soon become used to it and so need an even more extreme description to be dragged out of the ho-hum of everyday language. It's like drugs -- each 'fix' has to be stronger than the last one.

And where does it all go? Perhaps Mary Poppins had the answer: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!.


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