Absolutely Is Absolutely Wrong

Written by on September 5, 2017 in blog, grammar, writing with 0 Comments

Absolutely Is Absolutely Wrong

It’s a well-known fact that absolutely is absolutely wrong. Well, for some people it is. And what makes it worse, is that people often use it as an intensifier for another absolute. I wrote about absolutes before. You can read about them here.

Even the dictionaries have succumbed to popular and common usage. Below is Merriam-Webster’s definition of absolutely.

completely or totally • absolutely certain • an absolutely clear explanation—often used as an intensive • an absolutely brilliant performance • an absolutely awful experience • You’re absolutely right.
b : with unlimited power ruling absolutely
2a —used in speech as a forceful way of saying “yes” or of expressing agreement. “Would you like to see a movie tonight?” “Absolutely!” “We all need to work harder.” “Absolutely!”
b —used in speech in the phrase absolutely not as a forceful way of saying “no” or of expressing disagreement “Do you think he’s right?” “Absolutely not!”

I typically agree with the dictionaries—maybe not the way they define things, as that can sometimes be confusing, but general policies. I also agree that common usage dictates language. With that said, I don’t agree with the way Merriam-Webster uses absolutely certain in the definition of absolutely. If you’re certain of something, you’re certain. Take a look at this definition from Merriam-Webster for the word certain.

known or proved to be true : indisputable. it is certain that we exist.

Indisputable. You don’t get much clearer than that. It means unquestionable, unable to be disputed. In other words—certain.

So, in my opinion, absolutely certain is wrong. You’re either certain or you’re not. If you’re only partially convinced, then you’re not certain.

Complete is another absolute that people tend to attempt to intensify. If something is complete, it’s complete. End of discussion. It can’t be more complete than another project that’s completed. It’ possible that it’s partially complete, but then it’s not complete; it’s incomplete.

 

The same goes for “no” or “not”. If you see a sign such as the one above, proclaiming “no smoking at any time,” it doesn’t mean no smoking during the day, or no smoking when a guard isn’t there; it means no smoking, period.

Below are more examples of intensifiers that we should avoid. In each case, I’ve tried to note the original meaning of the words, or close to it, then show how common usage has changed that word.

If absolutely is absolutely wrong—why?

Take this example.
I was riding with a friend a few weeks ago and we passed what I can only presume to be a dead skunk. He rolled up his window and said, “That is absolutely the worst smell ever.”

I agree it was a foul odor, but was it the worst? And if it had been the worst, did he need absolutely to describe it? Or could he have just used worst?

If Absolutely Is Absolutely Wrong, Why Is it a Word?

Because it’s not absolutely wrong. Absolutely is absolutely wrong only when it is used to describe words that should not need descriptors, as in other absolutes. So, nothing is…

  • Absolutely wrong—it’s just wrong.
  • Absolutely right—it’s just right.
  • Absolutely unique —it’s simply unique.
  • Absolutely the worst—the worst can’t get worse.
  • Absolutely the best—the best can’t get any better.
  • Absolutely perfect—nothing can be more perfect.

I think you get the point. You can’t use absolutely to describe another absolute.

People do use absolutely as a way to emphatically answer “yes” or “no”, though. I’ve included a couple of examples.

“Are you sure you want to go?”

“Absolutely!”

“Are you going to the prom?”

“Absolutely not.”

In the fist example, the person could have simply said “yes”, but they apparently thought that was a stronger response. The second example is no different. A simple “no” would have sufficed, but “absolutely not” made the person sound more assured of their conviction.

More Absolutes

If absolutely is absolutely wrong, then here are a few others.

Before we start, let’s tackle one more word—best.”

Something cannot be “absolutely the best,” or “really the best,” or “totally the best,” or any other intensifier plus best. Best means there is no equal. All the others fall short. So something either is or isn’t the best. There’s only one spot available.

Now let’s look at some more words.

  • Awesome: Meant to inspire awe. Common usage has reduced it to a weak intensifier. Listen to any conversation involving teenagers and you’re likely to hear it far too often.
  • Fantastic: Originally associated with things that seemed “unbelievable.” It was derived from the word fantasy. Now it is used as a simple intensifier meaning excellent or great, as in “That was a fantastic dinner.”
  • Incredible: Now we’re getting to a pet peeve of mine. The word credible means “believable” some thing or some person that is offers reasonable grounds to be believed, as in, “He proved to be a credible witness.” Or “That was a credible excuse.” Originally, incredible meant the opposite, something that was not believable or possible. Now, it is used commonly as a mere intensifier, as in “What an incredible view you have.”
    • It may be a “great view” or a “spectacular view,” but it’s not an “incredible view,” because you’re looking at it.
  • Terrific: Terrific, originally meant terrifying, but the meaning has been reduced to just another intensifier. So instead of using it as in, “That was a terrific meal,” keep it in your back pocket for things like “That was a terrific tornado,” or “That was a terrific car crash” where the original meaning of terrifying can at least be loosely attributed.

These are but a few examples, but I think you see that if absolutely is absolutely wrong so are a lot of other words.

Another Pet Peeve of Mine Is Very

Very is a word that has almost lost it’s original meaning. I won’t spend much time on it here, but you can see another post I did regarding very for more information.

Anyway, here’s how very was meant to be used…

The detective asked her partner, “Is that the alley where the body was found?”

“The very one,” he said.

But enough about very. Let’s get back to absolutely. Suppose you and your partner went to a movie, and afterward she said, “The film was absolutely awful.”

Let’s look at that statement. How awful is absolutely awful. Was the film the worst she’s seen?

If it was the worst, just say so. “That was the worst film I’ve seen.”

When you say something like that, there is no doubt. Not question. According to you, no other film you’ve seen has been worse.

If it wasn’t the worst, was it one of the five worst? If so, say so. Then we know where it stands.

The point is, that either of the previous two statements are far better than saying it was “absolutely awful,” which tells us next to nothing.

Or how about the saying “He’s absolutely brilliant.”

What does that really tell us? I’d be willing to bet I’ve heard at least a dozen parents say that about their kids, but the saying means next to nothing. Wouldn’t it be better to be specific, as in “The child has an IQ of 152.” If you put it that way, everyone knows what you’re speaking of.

The next time you’re thinking of intensifying something or stating it emphatically, think again. You may not need to.

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Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes nonfiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series as well as books about grammar and publishing.

When Giacomo isn’t writing, he’s helping his wife take care of the animals on their sanctuary. At last count they had forty animals—seven dogs, one horse, six cats, and twenty-five pigs.

Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar, who takes walks with Giacomo every day and happens to also be his best buddy.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with forty-five loving “friends.”

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About the Author

About the Author:

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series as well as books about grammar and publishing.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.

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