Darren L. Slider

Language Inflation

Darren’s Writings


Language Inflation

© 1985

Language inflation in advertising, which makes every product superlative, defeats its own purpose by rendering the concept of relative comparison, which forms its basis, either self-contradictory or useless.

For example, Head & Shoulders recently advertised its “new, improved” shampoo as “better than [the old] Head & Shoulders.” In so doing, they have also created the ideal textbook example of “open mouth, insert foot,” no matter how they have advertised their “old” product. If they have made their old product out to be God’s gift to people inflicted by dandruff, as they in fact have, then they have just admitted that their old shampoo was only as effective as any of those of its competitors at best, for if it had been better it would have had no need of improvement. If they had not played up their old shampoo, then the new shampoo, now “improved,” comes up to a level, in the eyes of potential customers, equal to that of the shampoos of its competitors! Indeed, they have insulted the intelligence of every potential customer who has any intelligence to be insulted!

Furthermore, when all competitors in a given market use superlatives, they render the concept of relative comparison utterly useless. If Head & Shoulders and all its competitors advertise superlative products, then, relative to one another, all their products are equal and none is superior, if honesty in claims prevails; if one or all of the competitors are not being honest, customers will find out, no one will buy the product, and they will have defeated their purpose. On the same token, one cannot differentiate between the McDonald’s Big Mac, the Jack-in-the-Box Jumbo Jack and the Burger King Whopper when their prices and sizes are all equal and no measurable difference exists in their tastes.

Without a doubt, the inflated use of superlatives in advertising profits nothing.

Author’s Note: I argue in this paper, passionately if not always cogently, that the unbridled and careless use of superlative language in product advertising destroys the basis of comparison upon which it depends.