Just this morning, when I opened my home page, these words and phrases assaulted me not just once, but several times:
- The BEST/WORST/BIGGEST/SMALLEST
- MAJOR (mistakes/changes)
- INSPIRATIONAL ( not only inspirational, but TRULY inspirational)
So far, I’ve failed to be amazed, astounded, or otherwise surprised. What’s awesome or hilarious is subjective, and I’m perturbed by their assumption that I’ll never guess, I never knew, I have to know, or other phrases that question my knowledge of the world around me or my capabilities in this world. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t bother to click open the stories that contain exaggeration in their headlines (and I am pretty sure I’ll avoid using the word amazing in my vocabulary from now on).
I know when people are paying you to write articles for the internet, they insist on certain key words designed to get our attention. But sometimes it’s overkill. You need to find new words, or just tone it down a bit. I’ll be more likely to read an article leading with a simple explanation of what the story is about - like a story today, headlined Police Officer Jumps Into Moving Truck instead of You’ll be Amazed at What This Police Officer Does!.
Yay! Simple and to the point.
In writing groups, we have discussed hyperbole (extreme exaggeration used to make a point). More common hyperboles include whole phrases like hungry enough to eat a horse or I have a million things to do, but the definition also includes use of intensifiers like the words listed above. One of the traps is that, like the internet stories, we are obligated to deliver. If we promise that someone will be astounded, shocked, or have some other extreme reaction, and they are not, they quickly become wary of our tendency to magnify the importance of something, and our credibility is lost.
So if you’re tired of reading all these words that jump out at you from headlines, take it to heart and remember how you feel. When you are writing, practice constraint in your use of hyperbole. Then when you do use it, your reader will pay more attention to what you are telling him.