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Incredibly, the President's Incredibly Incredible Claims are Claimed to Be Credibly Incredible...What?

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Written by Carl Peterson   
Friday, 01 March 2019 11:10

Incredibly, the President's Incredibly Incredible Claims Are Credibly Claimed to Be Credibly Incredible...What?

 

It happened without my noticing.  Maybe I was working too hard, preoccupied like most Americans on the whirling hamster wheel.  Get up go to work come home eat dinner relax go to bed get up go to work etc etc.

Anyway, since the advent of El Niño, that is, the Infant, I mean, our lawfully elected, sane, selfless, svelte, smart, even-keeled, veracious, , stolid--thick-maned, candid, sane, knight templar-of-the-truth compassionate, kind, gentle, clairvoyant, astute, perspicacious, empathetic, large-souled, gracefully aging, sane, spitting-image-of-Adonis, or, if you like, Fabio--Honest Abe, Brainiac and long-fingered, sane president--I have been watching a lot more televised political news than I used to.  I began to realize about two years ago that it must have been while I had not been paying attention, a certain pair of words had become veritable workhorses in the lexicon of televised political journalism.

At first I thought it was just one or two television political reporters who misunderstood the ways those words were usually used, and were trying to raise the level of excitement conveyed in their reporting.  I noticed that instead of the common intensifiers typically being employed the last time I was paying attention, some televised political reporters and commentators were regularly using the word incredibly to replace very, highly, and extremely--as in, incredibly important, incredibly well-respected, and incredibly unusual.  They were also using the word incredible instead of the words in a long list that included good, great, nice, remarkable, pleasant, wonderful, competent, knowledgeable and okay.

Then I realized that it wasn't just a few television political journalists and personalities who were putting incredible and incredibly to work in these new ways: turned out that on MSNBC for example about two-thirds of the reporters, pundits, presenters and personalities didn't often find that things were very, highly, or extremely; they were now almost always incredibly.  And they didn't see that things could be good, great, wonderful, extreme, or even fantastic.  They just had to be incredible.

Now, I get that this whole thing might have started with the imperative that corporate televised political news must be as exciting and entertaining as possible, and the old, well-worn intensifiers and insufficiently hyperbolic adjectives had become too boring to successfully compete in the relentless inter-network battles for viewership, but there is a special problem when television journalists are reflexively slinging around incredible and incredibly:  These two words have roots in the Latin word credibilis, which translates into English as credible, or believable.  So, incredible means, literally, not believable.  That is its first definition in most American English dictionaries.  Its usual second definition is extraordinary or a word similar to that in meaning, and it is this second definition of incredible that TV political news personnel are overusing.

In the dictionaries, incredibly as an intensifier is often defined as meaning extremely, or extraordinarily, but given its root in the concepts of believability/unbelievability, the word never loses its connotation of an assessment of the truth, and reality.  So, if you say that someone--let's refer to the president in this example--is incredibly intelligent, you might just be meaning to express that the president is extremely intelligent.  But at the same time that root of credibilis has some questions: Are you being sarcastic?  Do you mean to say that it is not believable that the president is intelligent? In our everyday, non-journalistic usages, it's not a problem, it's fun to play with the multiple meanings of words in this way, but the sine qua nons of journalism are accuracy, clarity and credibility.  Journalistic slinging around of incredible and incredibly undermines these fundamentals by raising the doubts naturally attendant to hyperbole and by the perplexity evoked when journalists seem to be saying that what they are saying is not believable.  Incredible and incredibly are just fine on Access Hollywood, but this country is having big trouble right now putting its finger on reality.  We don't need journalists contributing to the problem.

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