A Modest Proposal: Introduce a Touch of Humility into Our Superlatives
“Hey, not an entirely disgusting idea!” you’re probably thinking
By Ed Goldman
While it’s generally a good idea to go through life with moderate-to-low expectations, certain phrases and titles we encounter tend to bolster us up when we’d be better off just lounging.
Take the law, for example. Is there really a person who merits being anointed a “star” witness, a “key” witness or a “surprise witness?” Who needs that self-importance?
I’d much rather be a co-star witness, low-key witness or a not-all-that-surprising witness if I were summoned to testify before a grand jury.
And what makes that jury so grand, anyway? Can’t we just call them a hundred-dollar jury or a big-for-its-age jury and leave it at that?
How about showing a little humility in other facets of our lives? Do we really need a Jumbo Meal when a Twin-Engine meal might prove just as satisfying?
And are the shows we binge-watch all that deserving of the superlative “streaming” when most of them could be described as merely running, much like a Madras shirt or an allergy-congested nose?
Do we really need to drive a Ford Gran Torino when a Ford “Larg” Torino may offer just as satisfying a ride? (And, as a sociological aside, are the makers of the Pontiac Trans Am considering a name change? Or at least using it to reach out to a new demographic of car buyers? And if so, what will this mean for terms like transcontinental and transactional analysis? And did I just hear Florida Governor Ron DeSantis faint? Or did he just lose his balance wearing disaster-viewing go-go boots?)
Must we use a phrase like “No biggie” (a slangier version of the already slang “It’s no big deal”) when what we’re really trying to convey is that the issue at hand is a “smallie”? Or at best, a “mediummy?” (By the way, “Meata-Yummy” is my suggested product name for plant-based chuck steak.)
We are quick to call bystanders not involved in crimes that occur in their general proximity “innocent.” That’s a pretty lofty word, one that four Popes used as their name, starting in about 1208, possibly on a Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning.
(Note to Goldman State fact-checking staff: Can you nail down the date and time on this?)
(Second note to fact-checking staff: When did we get a fact-checking staff? Shouldn’t I have been told? Does HR know?)
Anyhow, we can’t really say what makes bystanders “innocent.” I mean, are they innocent in all other aspects of their lives—or do they steal paper clips from the office supply cabinet or not let waiters know if they undercharged them for a meal?
So why don’t we call them something a little less definitive—like “naive bystander.” Or even “clueless bystander.” Or Carlson Tucker?
Don’t we empower greedy drug companies by collectively calling them “Big Pharma?” Would “Large Pill Pushers” be a misleading appellation because it suggests the pills themselves are large, not the manufacturers of same?
I guess “Large Pill Pushers” could be troublesome if veterinarians who specialize in treating horses feel unduly targeted. On the other hand, those professionals call their workplaces “Large Animal Clinics,” so maybe they’re just begging for it. If they’d just stick a hyphen between Large and Animal it’d help the rest of us realize Large Animal Clinics don’t necessarily take up vast acreage or square footage. I’m thinking here like a commercial realtor who may be wondering how I’ll re-market the facility if the clinic closes. “Soaring Ceilings” is great if I’m selling a penthouse but Large Animal Clinic may imply I’m trying to sell a white elephant. Which, ironically enough, may have come in for a checkup at the clinic in question.
I’m aware that sometimes a superlative is the only word that works. This could be why then-President Richard Nixon looked at The Great Wall of China and the best he could say was, “That’s a great wall.” One wonders if he’d wax as poetic upon seeing any of this country’s Great Lakes: “That one really gives me an Erie feeling.” “Oh, this Lake is definitely Superior.”
Finally, why do we think that taking a more modest approach to a loss or misstep must be characterized as eating “humble pie?” Why slander something as magnificent as pie? Why not “humble snicker-doodle,” for example, or “humble oatmeal-raisin?”
Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).
A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela
President, Golden Pacific Bank, a Division of SoFi Bank, N.A.
photo by Phoebe Verkouw
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