Another Cost

For a society seemingly governed by the bottom line, we Americans have always had difficulty in recognizing and accurately assessing any cost that isn’t expressed in dollars. We’ll cost-compare the price of any good at each place where it’s available and generally travel extra distances to get the “best” deal, while ignoring the costs of time expended, the extra gasoline, or the impact on the environment… or the cost to the community as a whole.  That’s the principal reason why such retailers as WalMart, Costco, Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowes, and other big box retailers have come to dominate local economies… and why Amazon is squeezing out many bookstores.  [It’s far from the only reason why chain bookstores came to dominate the bookselling industry, and that’s something I’ll address in a later blog].

But there are other costs to a society dominated by the bottom line, and one of them is a growing societal inability to assess and appreciate quality in any way except as a trade-off between price and “quantity,” which includes the number of features and capabilities a good has, regardless of their applicability and usefulness.  The “more” something has, the better it is.  With this societal tendency has come a change in language usage as well, call it linguistic inflation [and that inflation has been pressed into service in aiding and abetting the excessive use of praise].

Whatever happened to the praise “good job,” which meant just what the words signified? These days, especially among the young, telling someone that their accomplishment was “merely” good is taken as faint praise indeed, if not as an actual insult.  For praise to be worth anything, the words used must go far beyond good.  The accomplishment must be great, wonderful, awesome, most excellent, or even greater superlatives must be employed in service of description.

The same is true of products or people… or anything being evaluated or described.  We’ve become the society of superlatives, where a simple adjective or adverb will not suffice… and in turn, all such superlatives have become largely worthless, because everything is being described in superlatives.  If you will, comparative terms have become so supersized that there’s no meaningful comparison possible.

It doesn’t end there, unfortunately, because these linguistic excesses bleed over into other aspects of society, such as the media and politics, where such terms as “death panels” and other exaggerations are routinely bandied about with little concern for accuracy, either in degree of scope or degree.  It used to be that inflation referred only to the currency and meant that the money was worth less and less because it took more and more of the currency to buy less and less in real goods. But now, it seems, not only is the currency inflated, but so are the linguistic terms on which we rely to convey worth and value, with the result that, with all the exaggeration and hyperbole, very few Americans really have any true measure of much of anything these days… but then, perhaps I’m deluding myself, and they never did.

Still… it would be nice if we could call a spade a spade, rather than either a superannuated digging implement.  





1 thought on “Another Cost”

  1. Ryan Jackson says:

    In relation to that there’s also a trend in the corporate world to work almost in reverse of that.

    To take my experience with my company. When I was a basic rep on the floor and new, when I did okay it was considered an average rating and when I did really good it went up to the higher ratings with better raises, etc.

    This pattern continued until I interviewed and claimed a position that worked with our headquarters and went on a larger scale. At that point doing really good entailed the average and I had to do some truly amazing things to get any type of higher recognition.

    The problem here is that it wasn’t because they were switching word definitions. It was that everyone who had managed those jobs did good work so the measuring stick for what’s expected versus what’s extraordinary changes.

    Maybe that’s the problem as a whole, the entire idea of good work versus great work versus mediocre is on a sliding scale of subjective worth. No idea how we’d go about getting the world or even the country on board with an even scale, but that seems to be the only way this problem would go away.

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