The intensifier test
Posted by Simon Parke, 11 May 2017, 3.50pm
There is a (probably mythical) story concerning the script for a political speech.
Written in red biro on page two, alongside the third paragraph, is:
‘Argument weak here, speak louder.’
It’s all about intensifiers, things which appear to strengthen what we say.
So shouting or raising my voice is one option.
If I want to tell my wife I don’t care what she thinks, I could simply speak it, normal volume.
But if I shout it, seriously bellow it - ‘I don’t care what you think!!’, it might have extra shock value, more intensity.
But it’s not just about volume.
Another option is to add a word as an intensifier.
(Like I did two lines up with ‘seriously’.)
So I could say ‘I really don’t care what you think!’ or if I want to up the ante, employ a stronger one, ‘I fucking don’t care what you think!’
There’s a wide range of intensifiers to choose from.
Instead of being grateful, for instance, which might not seem enough, we might feel the need to be ‘tremendously grateful’.
Or if we’re feeling insecure in an argument, instead of saying ‘I feel sure about this’ we might say ‘I feel very sure about this’ or ‘I feel one hundred per cent certain.’
(As if sureness or certainty are on a continuum. I mean, you either are sure or you’re not and it’s the same with certainty. There aren’t fifty shades. The intensifiers here are meaningless.)
And intensifiers don’t mean anything, they don’t make anything more true.
To say ‘I’m fantastically happy’ – big intensifier in play - is not saying anything more than ‘I’m happy’.
It’s like putting a gold coat on a pig.
It may get the pig noticed…but it’s still a pig.
And there’s a law of diminishing returns.
If you always put a gold coat on the pig, if it becomes the standard practice in the pig pen, it won’t even serve to get you noticed.
Just like if everything is ‘totally awesome!’.
‘Awesome’ used to be a word describing God, a figure who engendered awe. Now it can describe a fairly decent night out at the cinema.
This is a sign of an intensifier getting tired and diminishing in value. It will soon need to be replaced.
(How about ‘Monstrous’? That was a popular intensifier in the 17th century.)
Bill boards outside West End shows are a further case in point. Every show/actor is ‘Brilliant!’ ‘Must see!’ ‘Remarkable!’ ‘Kill for a ticket!’ ‘Best show in town!’
They have all the impact of old wall paper…intensifiers eat themselves in the end.
In my experience, experience of myself that is, they are usually a sign of an insecure ego, a sign of fear.
They appear to strengthen what I say:
‘This is absolutely unacceptable!’
But in the cold light of day they’re ridiculous.
Isn’t something being unacceptable enough of a judgement?
Intensifiers are used by sales people, whether they’re selling toothpaste, religion, the latest novel or Brexit.
So my basic principle, (trying to avoid sales teams) is a phrase coined by Jesus: Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’’
Intensifiers, like the red biro by paragraph three, make nothing more truthful.
And may make it less so.