Very

Very is a word commonly used when speaking, though it’s criminally overused. But we’re a dramatic culture, and its strong presence is here to stay.

Where we can go wrong is using it for words that can’t be qualified using that word. Aside from the mistake of pairing it with unique—which is important enough to warrant its own separate blog—very is often used with first and last. “The very first thing he did was…,” or “It’s in the very last chapter of the book.”

Think about it. What’s the difference between the very first and the first? The correct answer is “Nothing.” What’s the difference between the very last and the last? The answer is an even more emphatic: “Nothing!”

First and last can’t be described as somewhat first or extremely last. Can’t be done. If it’s first, it’s first. Same with last; if it’s last, it’s last.

So let’s leave these nice strong words alone, and let them stand up for their own meaning without any help from a word that shouldn’t precede them.

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Insure and ensure

These two are used interchangeably at times, and we might be at the point where the distinction is losing all meaning in our everyday speech. (But for now, let’s at least try to keep the difference alive!)

To be more precise, we use insure when we mean ensure; it’s rarely the other way around.

The distinction is easy. To insure something is to put some insurance on it. We insure our houses, our cars, and other things of value. We even have life insurance, which is more like death insurance, but that’s another issue….

To ensure something is to make sure that it happens, to safeguard or guarantee an action.

  • We ensure someone that Grandma will behave this time by sitting next to her throughout the evening.
  • The company delivering our package tries to ensure that it will arrive on time.
  • Teenagers wanting to keep their privilege will ensure they are home by curfew.

Since the most common error is to say insure when we mean ensure, if we just keep using insure when we are referring to insurance, it will likely ensure a proper usage of these words.

Language Extremes

Instead of focusing on a particular word or phrase this week, I’m going to share some thoughts on what’s happening in our society that is pushing us to inaccurate extremes of expression.

We’re living in a world of extremes. On one hand, there is a mushy, fearful and hesitant approach to our communication, best seen in the ubiquitous use of “kinda” and its cousin, “sorta.” It’s as if we are afraid of saying anything definitive or clear, perhaps for fear of actually standing for something. Listen to yourself and others, and you’ll likely be surprised by a couple of things: 1) How often kinda and sorta are used, and 2) how unnecessary they are. In fact, not only are they generally not necessary, but they dilute the meaning of what follows. “When did you kinda get started with such-and-such?” “I kinda got home late.” Huh? Just remove the phrase entirely from your vocabulary, and like a food allergy test, re-introduce it little by little into your speech, but only as necessary.

The other extreme can be blamed on social media and television. In an effort to stand out and be heard (either by what people post or what people say), we exaggerate and intensify, and thereby destroy any semblance of relativity. Everything must be the most and the best, and everything must be presented in the most extreme and sometimes throbbing manner.

Facebook posts tell us to click on the video, because WE WON”T BELIEVE what happens next.

Apparently the world is often not ready for someone’s dress, statement or action.

Every person is BEAUTIFUL, and every baby is GORGEOUS. And all our children are AMAZING! (I believe that beauty can be found in everyone, and that every baby is special. But I don’t think that those who call everyone beautiful are making this particular point.)

Television interviews of folks who are famous for being famous are not helping. Not everything is a crisis; not every other thing is INCREDIBLE.

Stunning used to mean that something stunned someone (or shocked him or her, or made someone unconscious). Awesome, whose attempts at maintaining its meaning have been an abject failure, used to mean inspiring awe, a powerful idea that loses its meaning when meals, small favors, and nights out can be described as awesome. Have we simply lost the concept of awe?

Let’s pull in our speech toward a clear and happy middle. Let’s pull away from exaggeration and intensity, and use hyperbole and passion only when necessary to make our speech clear. Let’s pull away from qualifying every other statement with kinda, and let’s get to our points without hesitance or compromise. Let’s not try to stand out; let’s just work to be clear and precise, because that would be kinda amazing!!!