March 28th, 2007
Word inflation / all set / at this point in time
by Barbara Wallraff
John Voiles, of Shelby Township, Mich., writes: “Can you comment on the overuse of the word ‘amazing’? It seems I cannot tune in to a TV or radio show without hearing this word. No one ever clarifies or describes what is ‘amazing.’ I instantly change the channel at the first use of this word, and sometimes that is 15 seconds into the show.”
Dear John: “Amazing,” “awesome,” “stunning,” “incredible,” “unbelievable,” “fabulous,” “unique” -- these are all words that have been subject to inflation over time. To be literally amazed is a powerful experience -- as it is to be awed, stunned or unable to believe one’s senses, to feel as if something belongs in a fable or to come across something that’s the only one of its kind.
George Montee, of Fort Fairfield, Maine, writes: “My brother teases me for saying ‘all set’ -- for instance: ‘No more coffee for me. I’m all set.’ Is my use of the phrase incorrect?”
Dear George: No. There’s nothing wrong with “all set.” English is full of little phrases like this, with meanings you’d never guess from the meanings of the individual words. Think of “all in,” meaning “exhausted”; “at all,” meaning “in any way, shape or form”; “set about,” meaning “start”; or “set out,” meaning “try.”
Bill Churchill, of Kingston, Ontario, writes: “The use of ‘at this point in time’ aggravates me. Couldn’t people say ‘at this time,’ ‘now,’ ‘today’ or ‘as of now’?”
Dear Bill: Good ideas all. “At this point in time” annoys lots of people, because it’s wordy and windy -- puffed up. It’s a paradox of our language that people who try to make “now,” among other straightforward ideas, sound especially official or important usually end up just making themselves sound insincere.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.