Finally we’ve passed through the portal that leads to the warm summer months. This month, we examine use of hyperbole, vocative case and the pronoun ‘this’ – as well as Confusables.
“Step right up for the Greatest Show on Earth!” Barnum and Bailey knew hyperbole sells tickets. It also sells products. A 1980s Isuzu campaign featured ‘Joe Isuzu,’ claiming the SUV “had more seats than the Astrodome.” Hyperbole is a literary device where a word or phrase exaggerates a statement to produce an amplified effect. Advertisers know it can be a persuasive tool, but the best ones also know it should be used carefully and strategically.
We see hyperbole everywhere. It is used too often to express frustration, as in, “I’ve made a million sales calls,” or to exaggerate amounts, as in ‘giving 110 per cent’. Impossible, of course.
Hyperbole can be effective in some cases, as in underscoring a victory: “Our sales team knocked it out of the ball park.” But keep in mind that using hyperbole carelessly can nullify the desired effect and challenge a person’s or organization’s credibility. For example, when making a declaration such as “We’re the best” or “No. 1 in the country,” be cautious not to mislead and have stats to back up any claim.
Here is an amusing list of The Ten Greatest Hyberboles of All Time.
‘Vocative’ comes from vocal, and refers to cases that address someone directly. When addressing someone directly, always isolate his/her name from the rest of the sentence. A comma is required after the name if it leads the sentence; before it if it ends the sentence; or before and after if the name appears within the line. Vocative case errors are all too common, and typically occur when someone is rushing or neglects to proof.
What is ‘This’?
You know “this” as a common demonstrative pronoun (one of four: this, that, these and those). It is typically used to represent a thing or, in some cases, a person. When it represents an idea or concept, consider how you follow ‘this’ in long-form writing. If the preceding text has numerous nouns and subjects, it may be unclear what is being summarized when you say something like “This is not the way to go.” It is not grammatically imperative to follow “this” with a noun or noun phrase since “this” is a pronoun, but it may help keep readers or listeners engaged.
Pairs of words from The New American Dictionary of Difficult Words are often mistaken for each other or used incorrectly:
Historic/Historical – Both convey the idea of something significant and well-known in history. While ‘historic’ refers to people or events that will or have become history, like a historic Super Bowl game, something ‘historical’ is about history, as in a historical mini-series.
Infuse/Imbue – Both words mean to permeate. Imbue literally means ‘to cause to absorb, soak in’ and is often used when colours are added, as in ‘the painting was imbued with the colours of the sea.’ ‘Infuse’, on the other hand, means to steep something in a liquid to extract flavours from it. When referring to a person, note that one can be ‘imbued’ with a quality or feeling (e.g. hope), while ‘infuse’ means to fill with aspirations, ideas or principles, as in ‘infuse with a sense of duty.’
What do you think about these grammar tips? Do you have your own confusable to share? Please leave a message below.