Amazing, unbelievable? No, if your child’s work is average, tell them
This is the Age of Lowperbole.
It’s an amazing, unbelievable claim, but it’s true.
For hyperbole has become so much a part of our conversation and exclamation that it has lost its meaning.
If you think I’m exaggerating or using hyperbole to make a point, just listen to football pundits, groups of young people or school teachers.
The pundits have never been known for their consistent excellence, thanks to understandable over-excitement and sometimes limited vocabulary.
Chris Kamara has made “unbelievable, Jeff” into a lucrative catchphrase, but he knows and we know that it’s a joke.
But in this World Cup, they’ve gone above and beyond: above and beyond the descriptions that are deserved.
I cannot believe how often I’ve heard “unbelievable” used to describe something that’s perfectly believable and actually pretty damned ordinary.
A good pass becomes “superb”, a decent shot is “great”, a routine tackle is promoted to “tremendous”.
Maradona’s second goal against England in 1986 was great: a moment of actual greatness because it was so far above the ordinary.
Jordan Pickford’s penalty save against Colombia was superb, while Harry Maguire’s header against Sweden was excellent.
The following examples, not tap-ins by a Portuguese peacock, are unbelievable:
1 - When France’s TGV broke the world train-speed record, it had to apply the brakes for 10 miles before stopping.
2 - Cockroaches can see in the dark.
3 - The fake snow in The Wizard of Oz and White Christmas was asbestos.
4 - Alcohol and chocolate cravings can be controlled with injections of lizard saliva.
My thanks to 1,342 QI Facts to Leave You Flabbergasted for those gems. It’s truly an unbelievable book.
Groups of young people on buses and trains could write their own book called 1,342 Unbelievable Anecdotes That Are Actually Rather Dull.
Ellie: “Lucy, I was like out with Luke this morning and - Oh. My. God - he wouldn’t come into the shop with me. I literally lost my head.”
While others were hunting for Ellie’s head, it was Brad’s turn: “Did you hear what Johnny did last night? He like used fake ID to get into a bar. Then he like had a cocktail. I’m like, wow, that’s unbelievable. I literally couldn’t believe it.”
I literally harbour murderous thoughts when I hear these conversations. I’m like sooo fed up with lowperbole.
Forgive me, but I now have to turn my guns on parents and teachers - and pretty much anyone else who looks after children.
Yes, children need to be encouraged, but I get tired of hearing Jemima’s 5th place in the sports day egg-and-spoon described as “amazing, darling”.
And when Jack submits an OK essay about the Tudors, should parents and teachers call it “fabulous”.
There’s almost a fear of honesty - as if calling something good or (Heaven forfend) poor - will destroy children’s delicate souls.
Total honesty like that displayed by Competitive Dad in The Fast Show isn’t the best idea. Telling your six-year-son his painting is “absolute rubbish: it looks like you’ve been sick” won’t help.
But neither will the use of lowperbole, which just encourages an over-inflated opinion of oneself and a collision course with disappointment in the real world.
We need to hear the truth, not just be bombarded with over-the-top assessments of average efforts.
Maybe it’s time for some new words. After all all, the likes of unbelievable, superb and amazing have through overuse become everyday and average.
I give you jogboggling, uber-unbelievable, clamendous and prancedingly.
Collins, Oxford, take note: amazing new words were born today. Unbelievable?