It was raining. I was driving back from a deposition. The deposition was in Waterbury. Needlessly, it had consumed an entire afternoon. By the time I reached the highway, traffic had clotted up I-84, leaving hapless drivers to vacillate between first and second gear.
On the radio was the conclusion of an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” The subject’s name was not mentioned, but Terry Gross was discussing his abhorrence of certain words and phrases. His chief complaint was that enthusiasm for everything, from panty-hose to presidential debates, is now restricted to one descriptor. That word is “awesome.” He commented that the second most favored exaltation these days is, “amazing.”
I had noticed this trend. My friend Gail, who teaches in a rural school in El Portal, Calif., managing the seventh through 12th grades in one classroom, uses these terms often. I recalled a recent phone conversation with her. She had just seen Alison Krauss in concert.
“It was amazing!” she said. “Her voice is just awesome.”
Okay, I confess. I thought it was a West Coast thing. Then I thought it was relegated to kids, and Gail was just repeating things she heard all day. Gradually, these words turned up in the conversations of adults I knew and respected who lived in Connecticut. Noah Webster, I thought, must be doing the solo horizontal merengue in his coffin.
Terry Gross followed her subject’s diatribe with a comment that goes on my personal list of expressive excrementa. “Very true!” she replied.
Perhaps I am guilty of black and white thinking, but to my mind, things are either true … or false. These terms should not be vulnerable to modification. How true is “very true?” Maybe truer than “sort of true,” “kind of true,” “somewhat true,” or not very true at all. It is worth mentioning that I have never heard anyone say that anything at all is very false.
Suddenly the standards of legal proof seemed to be at risk.
Because there was no food in the car besides some stale cheese, I pursued my resentful ruminations. What if, I wondered, the language deteriorated to the point where these examples of lamentable lexicography should pervade our profession? I could just see it.
From: Brief of the Defendant in opposition to Motion in Limine:
The Court should admit the testimony of the Defendant’s expert witness, Radicchio Mulgravia, M.D., as it is not only probative but very true.
From: Plaintiff’s brief in support of Motion for Summary Judgment:
The pleadings, affidavits and other proof demonstrate that liability in the Plaintiff’s case is just amazing. The Court should therefore grant judgment in her favor.
From: Closing argument, Portulaca v. Imbecilio:
Members of the jury, you have heard the testimony of the Plaintiff, and her witnesses, which, I am sure you will all agree was very true. It would be awesome if you would render a verdict in favor of the Defendant.
From: Verdict, State of Connecticut v. Brucella Melitensis
We find the defendant very guilty.
The rain stopped. After a short interval, traffic began moving at regular speed. I got home only 20 minutes later than I had hoped to arrive. It was awesome. •