Um, not quite as much as it used to be?
Sigh. I’ve become hyperaware* of the word. I’d rather I didn’t, but now I’m beyond hope. Every time I hear someone say extremely, my ears perk up because it seems abused fairly often (and please note I didn’t say “extremely often”). Someone is always “extremely nice,” or a movie is “extremely boring,” or a resource is “extremely useful.”
But seriously, if so many mundane qualities are described as extreme, then what happens to all those real-life instances of actual, um, extreme stuff? Hearing the word used improperly so many times, I began thinking maybe I have the wrong definition in my mental dictionary (like those times as a teacher when I see a word misspelled so many times that I begin to think the wrong spelling is correct). Fortunately for my sanity (but not for overcoming my pet peeve), Dictionary.com defines extreme as “of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average.” Exactly! (Except that “farthest” should be “furthest” in this instance I believe.)
But if by popular usage extreme now refers to qualities that are just a few measly degrees beyond the norm, then what do we use in its stead?
Enter UrbanDictionary.com. (They know everything.) Of course, the site wouldn’t even have an entry for something as boring as extreme or extremely, but – get this – they’ve got extremliest! A user defines the word as “more extreme than ever, used when u need to express an outrageous amount of extreme-ness.” Uh, right. That’s totally extremely clear.
My only conclusion is that some words appear to lose power with younger generations. I use awesome fairly frequently but rarely because I’m struck with awe. On occasions of awe, I might say something like whoa, which, to be honest, doesn’t add much to a conversation — so maybe I shouldn’t complain after all. If extremeliest is now required to evoke the same response that extreme used to bring, I suppose it’s kind of like the more mainstream ginormous substituting enormous. Nonetheless, I can’t guarantee I’ll be saying extremeliest any time soon. Alas.
Anyway, let’s take a look at some real life examples. A quick Google search brought these sites up:
- 50 Extremely Useful PHP Tools: I suppose it’s relative.
- Extremely Green: As in the color of spinach versus the color of celery? Meh.
- Extremely Hungary Festival: Clever!
- 55+ Extremely Useful Online Generators for Designers: Seems techy folks have a liking for “extremely useful” stuff.
- 30 Extremely Elegant Serif Fonts: An oxymoron? Isn’t “elegance” based on a culture’s aesthetic norms?
- Extremely Smart: Clever, but the site needs a wee bit updating to keep pace with its name.
Well, I feel better having gotten this rant off my chest. Now I dare you to keep your eyes and ears shut to the word 😉
* My browser showed “hyperaware” as being misspelled, so I Googled it to make sure the combined form is a word. Ironically enough, hyperaware is defined at Wiktionary.com as “extremely aware.” Ha! I’m amused.