“That dinner was incredible!”
Really? You couldn’t believe that it was a dinner? “Incredible” means “beyond belief.”
Was it delicious? Was it elegantly presented? Then it was “delicious, and elegantly presented.” Was it as big as a two-story building? Okay, that’s incredible.
Why the escalating superlatives? I think it’s primarily due to a poverty of vocabulary, coupled with simplistic thinking: the speaker wants to describe the dinner in a positive manner, and “incredible” comes easily to mind, because she hears it constantly from her equally lazy peers.
“I washed the dishes.”
“Awesome” would be if Jimi Hendrix came back to life, right here in front of me. Washing dishes is something that, well, I thought you were going to do last week.
“I literally jumped 10 feet in the air!”
No, you didn’t, unless you’re an Olympic pole vaulter.
“That movie was HILARIOUS!” Not really; it’s a bunch of stoners trying to find a car/hamburger stand/sex tape, with dialogue generated by shredding old Jim Carrey scripts and reassembling them with a glue gun.
At the opposite end of the superlative spectrum, there’s “no problem.”
“Thanks for bringing our meals while they’re still lukewarm.”
Is there usually a problem? Is it rare that you deliver meals in a timely manner to diners?
Instead of “no problem,” say something with some conscious thought and intent behind it, such as “my pleasure.”
But there’s something else, too—cadence. I think a love of accentual-syllabic verse runs deep in us, at least in the Western linguistic tradition (that arcane phrase will make sense in a second; hang in there). From Shakespeare to Hallmark cards, there’s a certain vocal rhythm we adopt: da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM. “The DINner was NICE” doesn’t quite have it. “The DINner WAS inCREDuhBULL!” See what I mean?
I think the same urge for rhythm, coupled with the desire to add some extra verbal oomph, prompts the pointless use of profanity: “SHE’S a FRAKking ID-iot.” But you can have so much more fun with language if you exploit rich vocabulary. We’re masters of elaborate invective here in the South: “Bless her little heart, she probably pre-heats the microwave.”
See? Bitch-slap with a warm creamy center.