Monday, 7 April 2014


 I've mentioned what I call "word-inflation" before. Sometimes it is a case of extending words to make them sound more important: "transport" is lengthened to "transportation" (when it means transport around a city, not to a penal colony), or "methodology" is thought to sound more impressive than "method".

 In other cases a sort of hyping occurs. We used to say, for example, "We need to be clear", and maybe that was varied with "have clarity". Then someone sought to emphasise it by saying "crystal clear". Somewhere along the line this became commonplace or hackneyed and "transparently clear" began to be used, without really thinking of the meaning but just by a sort of inflation or, um, upgrade. Then we began to hear of the need for "transparency", "total transparency" and so on.

 No thought was probably given to the fact that totally transparent things are nearly invisible. If, for example, top bankers' salaries (or "compensation", presumably for doing such a noble, self-sacrificing job) and procedures are totally transparent they must be pretty hard to focus on, or even glimpse in outline.

 In sport, "giving a hundred per cent" sometimes just doesn't do it. You have to dig deeper and find that extra ten per cent you didn't know you had in you. But is that enough? Why only 110 or 200 or even a thousand per cent? So we have moved into the million per cent region now.

 In a similar way,  if "lucky" or "fortunate" is not impressive enough,  try "fortuitous" - it might make TV sports sound better or more worth spending your time on. Such things have happened with other words but, as with "unique", this inflation decreases their value. Last week I heard Sean Pollock, distinguished South African cricketer, say something was "a little bit unique". It clearly just means "rather unusual" now.

 And what about "simple"? It seems to be giving way to "simplistic", which according to my OED used to mean "characterised by extreme, excessive, or misleading simplicity".

 And please, don't even mention "fulsome".


  1. Something totally clear is also nearly invisible. It's the bankers or companies themselves that are "transparent", in that you can see through their "appearance" to the "details beyond", such as salaries; I don't think the word "clear" holds that meaning. You could argue for "candid", but I don't think it would take on.

  2. I don't know if you had intended this, but the implication here is that word inflation is a symptom and not the sickness, which I can accept. We editors are largely left to try to ameliorate (or point and laugh at) the symptoms, at least until we can get the afflicted to look at the larger picture -- and especially to get them to look beyond their own egos.

  3. Interesting comment, Andy, thanks. Symptom, yes. Still thinking about the disease.