I’m going out on a limb here. Get it? I’m not literally climbing out on the branch of a tree, but figuratively, I’m taking liberty with canon use of the English language and making it my bitch. I’m shaping the words to mean what I want them to mean by my personal situation and context, even if they don’t really mean that in the language proper, or to anyone else. Usually idioms are a word, or a phrase whose words in isolated use don’t and can’t mean what they say. Idioms are figurative.
What I’m getting at is, I find I’m really bothered by the common use of extreme idioms. It’s part of what I consider “luxury language,” words people say despite their privileged status preventing the circumstances of those words from being true for them. For instance, people say all the time, “I’m starving.” Really? Are you really starving, or are you just very hungry? There’s a difference between those two things. ‘Being very hungry’ means you really need something to eat, soon. ‘Starving’ means that you need something to eat soon and there’s no food to meet that need, and likely there won’t be any. Follow me now?
I say “luxury” because there are starving people in the world. Hell, there are probably starving people in my city. But if it’s lunchtime and you’re walking into the bagel joint, you’re not starving. You’re impatient, and maybe have low blood sugar, but clearly you’re going to eat shortly.
Another I hear this time of year: “I’m freezing to death.” That one’s a double whammy. Again, to freeze implies that you are cold beyond your capability to become properly warmed again. Most of us will never in our lives come close to freezing. Yet, it happens all the time. Homeless people freeze until they die in urban cities every winter. Impoverished people in cold climates freeze. People with coats, hats, and gloves walking from their car to a building don’t freeze. They’re just very cold until they reach the next warm point. The discerning factor is, they will reach the next warm point.
Here’s a great new trendy word: rape, as in “Dude, we got raped in that game last night.” The phrase intends to reflect a severely unfortunate loss of something–usually a ballgame, wiping in a raid (as in Warcraft which would be an “epic fail“), or being harshly judged on some effort. Are any of these the “unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse?”  No. Are they “an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation?”  No. Why aren’t they? Well, obviously because in these uses no one was forced into sexual activity,and because no matter how disappointed you may feel that your team lost or you didn’t get the reward you expected, you will ultimately walk away from this engagement emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually fine. No post-trauma here.
Others of interest: “We got lynched,” and the very timely “I’m broke.” Were you really put to death by hanging by a mob with no legal authority? Because historically a lot of people were and many still are, and they’re not walking around complaining about it, today. They’re dead. And with our economy in the shitter, a lot of people really are broke right now. Just to reiterate, though, to be broke means that you have no money and means to acquire more are severely limited if nonexistent. Most of us are not that.
Why does it matter? Why am I being crazy over the language people choose to express themselves? It bothers me because I think it demonstrates a separation between the privileged and people who really are enduring awful states of being. The whole reason we get to speak with exaggeration is privilege. Privilege allows us to see ourselves as victims when we aren’t. Victim-speak disempowers us, as well as disrespects people who really are experiencing those states of being.
Is there an inherent threat in that? I guess that depends on what you believe. Does that make people who speak with such exaggeration bad people? Probably not. But does speaking with impeccably accurate language make us more aware of ourselves and how we fit into the world? I’d bet so. Does it make us better writers?… How can it not?