Avoid “Great” And “Very”

My recent post on Review of Anthony Horowitz Books got many views and like. That was a pleasant surprise to me! I didn’t know that Horowitz is so popular and widely searched. But this has motivated me to write book reviews more often!

However, today I want to write about another topic which I had drafted 1 year back. Never completed and posted it. The recent Mint article titled “Overuse has deprived the word ‘great’ of its greatness” finally prompted me to complete this post.

The article makes an interesting point about overuse (and dilution) of the word “Great” since the pandemic broke out. It started with “Great Migration” which referred to people walking during the lockdown hundreds of miles to go to their native place. Then there was “Great Slowdown” because of persistent lockdowns and multiple waves of COVID pandemic leading to business disruptions. The recovery from this was also equally fast and led to “Great Acceleration”. The job market for certain sectors (especially Tech/IT) is hot now that it has caused “Great Resignation” wave. The attrition is at record high.

These are the examples mentioned by the authors in that articles. What they haven’t mentioned is that the use of “Great” is not post-pandemic phenomenon. Remember the “Great Depression” in 1930’s which lasted for almost 1.5-2 decades? Then there was the sub-prime crisis in 2008 and the financial meltdown which was called “Great Recession” (because it was not as severe as The Great Depression, and hence needed a new name starting with Great!).

So the point made in the article is that we use “Great” too loosely and thus diminish the importance of it.

That reminded me of another overused word “Very”.

I like to learn the language not just as a means of communication but as medium of expression. I underline and learn new English words even today. I also follow lots of Twitter handles which post tiny lessons about good usage of English. One of the common lessons is about “how to avoid overuse of Very”.

Here are few examples to illustrate this (few could be repeated because they are from different sources):

The way they (native English speakers) view this overuse of “very” is a case of being lazy. Instead of using proper and precise words we tend to attach “very” to the words and we do that because we are “lazy”.

In fact this exact thought was echoed in the classic movie of 1989 starring Robin Williams called “The Dead Poets Society”.

For the uninitiated, Mohabbatein (2000) was a cheap and Bollywood style remake of Dead Poets Society, in which they too the high level plot (Shah Rukh Khan playing a free-spirited teacher who teaches students to pursue their love), removed all the beautiful things and filled the space with typical Bollywood styled songs-dance-romance formula.

Anyways, coming back to Dead Poets Society, there is a very powerful quote by Mr. Keating played Robin Williams where he’s telling students to be passionate about words, language, literature and poetry. Here is the quote:

“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.”

It’s interesting to see that the native English speakers consider it an act of laziness to use very and not use more precise words. That is one of the reasons. However, for others whose mother tongue is not English, the reason is not laziness; it’s lack of vocabulary. Such people use English for business or work related communication, where one can get away with a limited vocabulary pertaining to the profession. And they can use “very” (or “great”) to make up for intensity of emotion/expression.

That’s why I feel that one should read/listen to more of the native writers/speakers if one wants to learn or enjoy the language in true sense.

If the only English writers you read are Chetan Bhagats of the world then you will not even get the beauty of the language and you’ll be happy attaching “very” to every word. And people read Chetan Bhagat because of their laziness – of different kind. It’s laziness to make an effort to learn new words, enrich your vocabulary.

The fact that Chetan Bhagat and others of his kind are popular in India shows how lazy we are and why English will remain a foreign language to us.

People find the mediocre Indian English language as “Great”. That’s “very” disappointing 😋


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