One evening I became aware of two television ads airing back to back. One was for a telephone service; the other for a car. Both hammered the word crazy to describe features of their products: “crazy, crazy generous, crazy efficient, crazy protection.”
This mindless kind of usage strips words of meaning. It wastes the power of words that have more appropriate uses. Take this headline, for example:
Daylight Saving Time Is America’s Greatest ShameShame can be used in more than one sense, including a fairly meaningless social convention: “It’s a shame you couldn’t join us for dinner.” Used as it is in the headline, however, shame is a strong word, calling up images of the Indian removals known as the Trail of Tears, the WWII internment camps for U.S. citizens of Japanese descent, and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments that used untreated black Americans as a control group.
Daylight Saving Time may be a fraud. It may be annoying, unnecessary, disruptive or any number of disagreeable things, but is it really “America’s Greatest Shame”? Sometimes the intended purpose of a piece of writing calls for deliberate misuse of words. Advertising and political speeches come to mind.
We live under a constant verbal barrage. It’s impossible to ignore the catch phrases of our culture. They enter our minds and speech. If we are writers, they creep into our first drafts. Happily, we can replace poorly chosen words as we revise.