How hyperbole 'won the internet'

In an age where amplification is 'everything', language is rapidly losing all meaning

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The Independent Online

At one point during the 1980s, presumably during a frat party, someone must have stood up and exclaimed: "This taco is awesome." Now, tacos are delicious, you'll find no arguments here, but do they inspire awe? Onlookers were stunned, but also quite taken with this wilfully absurd usage, and set about blessing everything from their shoes to their hair pins to the sweet air they got on skateboard jumps with it.

Fast forward about 20 years and Alt-J release the album 'An Awesome Wave', and I'm at a loss as to whether to regard this wave as Moses must have, a massive f*cking wall of water and terror, or just as a kind of chill seapunk ripple that would look awesome on my Tumblr.

Onwards through time to the present day and One Direction member Zayn Malik's very latest hairstyle, which has been described as "everything", "life" and a "gift sent from God".

"Thank you Zayn for killing me. A billion times. Thank you for ending me with your perfect face," said @koolkidz6969.

"HOLY SH*T OH MA GOSH.THIS GAVE ME BREATHING ISSUES," shouted @hayesnashcambae .

"Id choke myself with every strands of zayns hair bc f*ck that hairstyle is so hot" threatened @AjHoranlicious.

"ZAYN'S HAIR IS THE DEATH OF ME" concluded @ixvzayn.

We now live in a world with a scarcity of superlatives. 'Awesome', 'brilliant', 'amazing' - these words are almost meaningless, diluted by repetition to, if anything, signify lukewarm feelings and elicit an affronted "Oh, so you're not that keen then?" response.

Only the most bombastic and hyperbolic descriptions will now do, even if they are in jest, and it's a direct consequence of the internet, which has turned discourse's volume up so high that only the most caustic or reverential reviews will cut through the noise. Only extremes of feeling are worthy of your finite consideration, everything else is scrollable.

This is all now a matter of fact. There's no point in pining for the past, when dictionaries didn't have the word 'selfie' in them and Laughing Out Loud was manifest, language is always changing and long may it continue to, but it's now churning at such a rate that the dialogue of period dramas depicting today will seem markedly more alien to people in the future than the odd "boy, that was swell!" does to us in Mad Men.

The impact of this is difficult to gauge. For general conversation maybe it doesn't really matter, or maybe our increasingly desperate linguistic attempts to convey our happiness or appreciation prove that texts and IMs are a poor substitute for face-to-face talking and say something about our difficulties with self-expression. Perhaps I'm becoming a bit 'old man shouts at internet', or perhaps the extremity of language will mean films can only be the 'best ever' or the 'worst ever' and politics will become worryingly polarised.

The next stage will be the re-purposing of softer words for stronger meanings. When 'sh*t' and 'horrific' no longer sum it up, words like 'dross' and 'bilge' will be dug up.

Everything is cyclical though, and eventually people will tire of 'winning the internet' and looking at '31 insanely ooey, gooey foods with no chill' that will 'sexually awaken you' and go to…where? Longer forms of communication perhaps, that are praised for subtlety and consideration rather than brevity and punchiness.

No, this isn't the biggest problem facing the world right now, but it is tied up in our growing anxiety over social media correspondence and the lionisation of the self. In a conclusion that won't be popular with current tastes: it isn't everything or nothing, but it's definitely something.

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