Saturday, September 19, 2015

To Speak Impeccably: The Eloquence of Understatement

 "...genius for language lies in understatement ..."
Walter Kirn

Language suffers from chronic exaggeration.  Words which once swelled rich with meaning become deflated and worthless.  Impeccable speech, however, is marked by well-measured words, and is eloquent in its simplicity and reserve.  There is eloquence in understatement.

A beautiful example of the eloquence of understatement is found in the opening text of the Bible, where the creation of this magnificent earth is described in measured tones: "... and it was good." The restraint of the word good infuses it with rich meaning and touching eloquence.

Contrast this with popular handling of the word awesome.  Here is a word which should be reserved for things that leave us wide-eyed and speechless with awe, but is mindlessly thrown about on things like t-shirts and cheeseburgers.  When words are flung carelessly, they become meaningless and make our language lifeless and dull.  If a tasty cheeseburger is elevated to awesome, what is left to describe the marvels of a baby's birth or the vastness of the Milky Way?

A hallmark of impeccable speech is a tone of understatement rather than hyperbole.  Popular and exaggerated words, including love, amazing, unbelievable, and incredible are avoided.

Impeccable Speech Habit:  Carefully measure words to avoid exaggeration.


  1. I've been working on this one for a while. I think choosing our words well is important, and for most is a lost art. Someone close to me exaggerates so much, and speaks without much thought - so much so that its difficult for me to believe anything she says.

  2. Keep shining, Jill! I appreciate you commenting here.