I read an article recently that mentioned how actors, when describing another actor’s performance, frequently use the word brilliant. In fact, the writer commented on how rare it is for the word brilliant to not be used in the description of a performance.
I’ve attended several conventions of the National Speakers Association where virtually every speaker gets a standing ovation. It even got to the point where speakers were joking about it from the podium.
I notice, in my own conversations and social media posts, a fondness for the word fabulous. Other people find things awesome, beautiful, sheer genius, magnificent, stupendous, gorgeous, and stunning. Pick your superlative. We put exclamation marks after the simplest text messages: “See you soon!”, “Okay!”, or “I’m fine!” Sometimes, it seems we’re afraid of not showing enough enthusiasm, so we use multiple exclamation marks after the simplest of statements: “See you 2nite!!!!!!!” or “That’s super!!!!!!!” Of course, the reason we go crazy with exclamation marks in written communication is the absence of vocal inflection, body language, and facial expression which conveys emotion. It’s the same reason we sometimes feel the need to use emoticons such as a smiley face to soften words that might otherwise seem cold or hard.
Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s not my intention to cast a cloak of dread over anyone’s enthusiastic support for his or her friends and colleagues. It does seem, however, that we, as a society, are running on hyper-enthusiastic drive in everything we do. When “awesome” becomes the norm instead of a response to something that’s truly awe-inspiring (Were you really awe-struck by that or was it just really good?) or when “brilliant” is used even on performances that, while above average, still are not blinding in their effect, we minimize the impact of an appropriate use of superlatives. We dilute their effect.
I mentioned to my friend Paul that I was writing this blog post. He asked if he should expect vanilla language from me from now on. Heavens, no! (I resisted the urge to use multiple exclamation marks.) What you and Paul can expect is that I will try to be more mindful of my use of superlatives and intonation-oriented punctuation.
What does this mean for us in customer service and end-user support? We simply need to be more mindful of our choice of words and more aware of how we express ourselves around others. By doing so, we ensure that our words and language will always have the desired impact and won’t be diluted by overuse.