19 February 2009


by Cecily
Lukas and I had a fight* the other day about whether or not people should ever use the word "overexaggerate". Lukas said no, and that anyone who did so was being extremely irritating. I said well they probably were being extremely irritating but you theoretically could use the word in an acceptable way regardless and that the irritatingness was a red herring.

For example: Some people have a tendency towards underexaggeration when they are telling a story.** And they will tell you all about EXACTLY what day and time and what dress they were wearing and what they had for lunch and if they did something on the way to the bank or the way home. This is also extremely irritating.

Other people*** exaggerate precisely the right amount, being neither too boringly pedantically precise nor ridiculously hyperbolic. Neither under- nor over-exaggerating. The Platonic Ideal of exaggeration. The exact combination of facts and artistic license that everyone agrees is the Best Way. We**** should all try to be more like these people.

*There is some chance that this word choice might be considered an example of overexaggeration. Since in fact what we had was a three-turn conversation via text message in which no one disagreed with anyone else.

**Midwestern women particularly. According to Discourse Linguists.

***Like me, mainly.



  1. My account of the "fight" in question is slightly different, and only meaningfully so with respect to my susceptibility to reasoned argument. Upon hearing C's explication of the concept of overexaggeration understood as a degree of exaggeration, I accepted the neologism.

    Hailing as I do from a land of storytellers, where each and all pursue the ornamented ideal as ability allows, I offer you "embellishment," which, in suggesting the conferral of beauty, contains the desired Platonic undertones without any of the messiness of doubled intensification borne by overexaggeration, either ortho or hetero.

  2. I SAID nobody disagreed with anyone else! In the footnote!

  3. Also, "embellishment" is all very well, but it doesn't tell you who did a great job of embellishing the right amount (me) and who didn't (the overexaggeraters and underexaggeraters). This is important information Lukas. Let's not lose out on this valuable semantic contribution in our rush to soothe the egos of the bad storytellers.

  4. Regardless of what Webster or whoever might say, and I haven't bothered to check, "embellishment" means, at root, to make something beautiful by adding something to it. Beauty, in storytelling, has everything to do with proportion and distortion -- the second of which you've wisely denoted as a correct degree of exaggeration. Can we not say, then, that a story that has been truly embellished is precisely a story in which the "facts" have been exaggerated correctly -- as in, in the right proportion to one another? Conversely, can we not say also that a story that has been improperly or insufficiently distorted has simply not been embellished?

    Can we invoke mannerism here? If so, what should be it's opposite? Realism? Stream-of-un(or only partial)-consciousness? Libertarianism (though I know that one gets slippery, etymologically)?

    I ask this because I really think we can do better. Exaggeration is increase, simply. It's a heavy, soft hammer of a word. Since the aim of this discussion is to find the best way to discuss the correct or optimal degree of something, which is in no case the fullest expression of that something, I prefer a word that has a mean within it; hence, "embellishment."

  5. I did have a friend who perpetually wrecked his stories by underexaggerating, and I found it annoying. Like, "My girlfriend is the worst at parking! It took her two tries to park at the grocery store yesterday."

    Now, I believe she's terrible at parking, but c'mon, provide me some evidence or make it up.

  6. Lukas: yes. I will accept this. Embellishment is the new orthoexaggeration.

    Heebie: was he from the midwest? The linked article calls it "extrathematic orientation" when you include too many irrelevant details, but this term is not judgy enough for me.