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Intensifiers :

People are always looking for ways to emphasize how really, really special the subject under discussion is.

The use of “really” is one of the weakest and least effective of these.

A host of words have been worn down in this service to near-meaninglessness.

It is good to remember the etymological roots of such words to avoid such absurdities as "fantastically realistic,” “absolutely relative,” and “incredibly convincing.”

When you are tempted to use one of these vague intensifiers consider rewriting your prose to explain more precisely and vividly what you mean:

“Fred’s cooking was incredibly bad” could be changed to “When I tasted Fred’s cooking I almost thought I was back in the middle-school cafeteria.”

Incredible :

The other day I heard a film reviewer praise a director because he created “incredible characters,” which would literally mean unbelievable characters.

What the reviewer meant to say, of course, was precisely the opposite: characters so lifelike as to seem like real people. Intensifiers and superlatives tend to get worn down quickly through overuse and become almost meaningless, but it is wise to be aware of their root meanings so that you don’t unintentionally utter absurdities.

“Fantastic” means “as in a fantasy” just as “fabulous” means “as in a fable.”

A “wonderful” sight should make you pause in wonder (awe).

Some of these words are worn down beyond redemption, however. For instance, who now expects a “terrific” sight to terrify?

Common Errors Index

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