OnWords: Extreme

Jan 10, 2017

In his call for “extreme vetting,” the president-elect has given the word “extreme” a bit of a comeback.

“Extreme” had a good run in the ‘90s, applied to everything from rock bands to bowling.

And even though the excesses of the 2000s were far greater, we seemed then to have used the word less, almost as if “extreme” was no longer adequate to describe the billions of dollars scammed by complex financial transactions and made-up mortgages.

In the dawn of the age of extreme vetting, we’d do well to reconsider the way we use the word “extreme” to express our aspirations but not our realities.

Why should a nation such as ours want to be extreme?

Is it just that we’re prone to see bigger as better, excess as success?

Perhaps.

Just as likely, Americans are so used to sensationalism that those promoting an idea need a word like “extreme” to catch our attention.

This movie doesn’t just have the normal number of big, orange explosions, it’s extreme.

This vetting isn’t just just hard on immigrants, it’s extreme.

You can almost hear the rock-cracking font.

There’s also a practical issue at work: after my generation wore out the word “awesome” in the 1980s, there weren’t many two-syllable superlatives to take its place. So “extreme” it was.

If this extreme revival is successful, it won’t be too much longer before your cashier at Arby’s will be bidding you to “Have an extreme day!”

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