How to use an overused word

I have sometimes berated the contemporary gross overuse of the word “brilliant” by way of explaining why I myself use the adjective sparingly—and explaining that, when I do say it, I really mean it. But apparently the excessive indulgence in that compliment is not a recent phenomenon. In the late 1920s the Conservative prime minister of Great Britain, Stanley Baldwin, sent the following note to his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill, following the latter’s annual Budget Day speech to the House of Commons:

I hate to use the word “brilliant”: it has been worked to death and is too suggestive of brilliantine: but, if I may use it in its pristine virginity, so to speak, it is the right one. I congratulate you with both hands. (William Manchester, The Last Lion, p. 810.)

Baldwin was exactly right. When a word has become meaningless through being spoken mechanically and too often, we need to try to recover it in its “pristine virginity.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 04, 2013 10:00 PM | Send

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