We become what we think about, imminent psychologists and uber successful people tell us. So, I am constantly fascinated by the words that we use every day, which in turn depicts the state of our minds, i.e what we think about on a daily basis.
On one of my early morning commutes into London last week, I was in a train carriage full of construction workers and the city broker types still half asleep or with their noises buried quietly into their social media accounts on their phones. It was a real surprise to hear the girly laughter of a young woman cutting through the quiet. She was in a conversation with her male partner, in an eastern European language and it was quite obvious from the softness of their tones and her flirtatious laughter that they were in a romantic relationship.
As I was mentally preparing for my working day, I was quite glad that they were behind me and were speaking in a language that I did not understand, as this minimised any temptations to be distracted. The conversation and the laughter carried on in the background. All of a sudden, the following sentences from her cut through the air. “I am really stressed” . This was immediately followed by more flirtatious laughter. I parked my mental work preparations, fascinated by how a “really stressed” state can reside comfortably with joyous laughter.
I waited to hear her partner’s response. How will he console her? I didn’t wait long. He said what sounded like a three-word sentence, in their language, and she burst into her delicious laughter again. Then she repeated in English, “I am really stressed”, this time with even more amusement in her voice. His sentence was a bit longer this time, but there was the unmistakable laughter in his voice now too. She laughed longer this time as she listened to him talk. When he finished talking, he also laughed too and for the third time, she said, “I am really stressed” and proceeded to tell him something in their language which made him laugh heartily for a few seconds. As we were nearing the final train destination, I decided to get up a bit earlier to have the opportunity to see the couple before they stepped off the train, and to see what “really stressed” looks like.
They had their arms intertwined, relaxed and smiling as they locked eyes on something of interest on their phone. I am no medic but there was nothing in the lady’s demeanour which spelt “really stressed”. I started to think, could this be an example of how our everyday language has descended into exaggerations that even foreigners are picking this up? Has it now become a thing for us to err on the side of dramatizations to get our point across verbally, safe in the knowledge that as words only make up 7% of our communications ( with body language = 55% and tone =38%), no-one will ever take us that seriously, or take our meaning literally enough, to be worried about us anyway?
For the rest of the week, I made it a point to take more notice of mine and other people’s choice of words. These were some of my favourite hyperboles that I heard:
- “I’m starving.” (Au contraire, he looked well fed)
- “It’s freezing.” (Granted, the London temperature was 1C. But Canada on the same day was -35C)
- “The temperature here is boiling”. (OK, this one came from me in numerous protests against the 23C room temperature in our house. Two days later, one of my clients told me a story of how he worked in Saudi Arabia in 45C heat!!!)
- “My commute today was epic!” (Yes, there were a few cancellations and connecting services were missed. But epic? Really?)
- “My boss is simply evil!” (Dictionary meaning “profoundly immoral and wicked”. Again, really?)
- “Monday 21st January 2019 is blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year”. (Only in the UK it seems. In USA, it is Martin Luther King Day!)
Yes, it looks like hyperboles have become the norm. So, the question is, what impact does this have on us as we go about our daily lives? If we really are what we think about and say, are we in danger of sleepwalking into negativity? Should there be an Awareness day for us to Mind our language?