Search This Blog


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Calm down. It's only: 1) some snow; 2) a comedy film and; 3) a songwriter

1. This morning the BBC news said that the snow was "creating havoc" all over the country.
2. Last night somebody said to me that the Will Ferrell movie "Anchorman" was "brilliant".
3. Last week on Desert Island Discs David Tennant said Elvis Costello was "one of the all-time great musicians".

Seems to me these are all examples of qualitative inflation. Now I'm sure with 1) there were a number of people who were badly inconvenienced, others who were caused real distress and then lots of people who carried on as usual, battling "the havoc" by changing their footwear.

As far as 2) is concerned, if you do think "Anchorman" is funny then it's unlikely to be by some distance your favourite funny film. If there are, say, twenty films that are funnier than "Anchorman", then the adjective "brilliant" is unlikely to be the appropriate one.

And then there's 3). I admire Elvis Costello, as do many people, but I think it's pushing it to call him "one of the all-time great musicians". Where do you put him in relation to Sydney Bechet, Burt Bacharach, Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and the Beatles, to scratch only the surface of just one letter of the alphabet? And the first one to point out that such praise does him no favours whatsoever would be Elvis Costello.

In all three cases, the appropriate expressions - "causing problems", "really funny" and "very talented", respectively - wouldn't be enough to communicate what the speaker wanted to put over. Whose fault is that? All the over-claimers who went before. So remember, the expression of excessive approval doesn't just affect you. It also spoils it for the next person to come along.