Thursday, April 25, 2013

Really Extremely Very

I expect that most authors are well aware of the problem with the word "very", and other words of that ilk: they don't add anything of substance to the text, and they're a lazy way of providing emphasis. For instance, if an author says "the night was very hot," just how hot is that? One person's "very hot" might be another person's "mildly hot." Is it hot enough that no one can sleep indoors? Is it hot enough that the crickets are panting instead of chirping? Or is "hot" even the right word for the type of weather the author has in mind? How about "sultry"?

I'm actually encountering this same problem in my programming life as well. The contractors who are testing our software can't seem to use the word "confusing" without prefixing it with the word "very", as in "the controls on this page are very confusing." Wouldn't the defect report communicate the same information if it just said "the controls on this page are confusing"? Is there any additional benefit in trying to specify different levels of confusing? If so, why aren't we seeing any reports of UI elements that are merely "confusing" and not "very confusing"?

I've tried to remain vigilant about the use of "very" words in my novel, but recently I've begun to wonder about similar lazy words in my own speech: specifically, profanities. Craig Ferguson has told us that "sometimes, only a cuss word will do," but is this really true? When I use one of the words that you can't say on broadcast television, what information am I trying to convey? "I'm angry"? "I'm disappointed"? "I want you to pay attention to this"? How about when I use words with a religious context, like "God"? I haven't been a practising Catholic in over twenty years; why am I lending emphasis to a statement by referring to a mythological entity whose existence I do not assert any belief in? Wouldn't statements such as "by Odin" or "by Osiris" have the same weight? Why bring religion into it at all?

It might be useful, as an exercise, to try to omit any expletives from my speech and try to achieve the same emphasis and emotional weight through more polite and descriptive words. I don't know if I have the self-discipline to pull it off, but the results would be interesting.