What is linguistic inflation?

Linguistic inflation concerns a devaluation of the meaning of words over time. It is something that has increased in prevalence over recent years with the compounded effects of the 24 hour media, social media, instant messaging, and influences from the United States, where there is often much more enthusiasm within speech than is common in the UK. It can be easy to exaggerate and resort to hyperbole in order to appear more enthusiastic, confident and to be more persuasive about a topic. However, linguistic inflation is an over use of language. Below we will discuss some examples of how linguistic inflation could cause a negative impact on the standard of your writing.

Numerical examples

Using over-exaggerations in numerical percentage terms such as ‘I gave 110%’ and ‘I feel a million percent better’. The reason why these are considered linguistic inflation is because it is impossible for something to be more than ‘100%’, as the word percent simply means ‘parts per hundred’. The only time when talking about percentages over 100 would make sense is talking about actual monetary inflation. For example, if the price of a bar of chocolate increased from £1 to £3 it is a 200% increase, as £1 would equal 100%, so an increase of £2 (from one to three) would mean an overall price increase of 200%). Using exaggerations within any academic writing (such as in job applications or personal statements describing your qualities and skills) will generally not be taken too well. If you want to say that you will, for example, work your hardest, stating that you will give 100% will suffice, as this means that you will be working the absolute hardest that you can. This example of linguistic inflation has led to the devaluation of the meaning of the term ‘giving 100%’, as people now fear that “only” 100% will not be seen as good enough.

Overuse of descriptive words

Overuse of descriptive words, including ones that can hold a lot of enthusiasm within them (totally, incredibly, amazingly, etc.). Within academic writing, you are more likely to get a positive to response to the sentence ‘There was a beautiful waterfall behind the trees’ than the padded-out sentence ‘There was an amazingly, incredibly beautiful waterfall hiding secretly behind the luscious trees’. The reader may see this as you trying to use extra words to meet your word count, when they hold no value within the sentence and just make it harder to read and understand the meaning of. In modern times, linguistic inflation often comes in the use of words such as ‘awesome’, ‘epic’, ‘genius’, and others. These words will usually not provide any added bonus to what you are trying to say, so you are better off not using them.

Another example of an overused word that contributes to linguistic inflation is the word ‘like’, which lots of people now use in place of hesitations or words such as ‘umm’ whilst they think of what they are trying to say. Specifically in academic writing, it is not a good idea to use the word ‘like’, as the reader could conceive it as trying to add extra, unnecessary words.