It's only mine because it holds my suitcase.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

And the Nomination Goes to

I would like, if I may, to coin the phrase ‘grammatical inflation’. And since I’m coining the phrase, I suppose I’ll also define it. Grammatical inflation is the devaluation of individual words due to inappropriate overuse. For example, I am holding in my hands as we speak a box of ‘Sunny Select Original Gourmet Crackers’, which I purchased because they seemed the most basic crackers in the entire cracker aisle.

The word ‘gourmet’, according to, my new favourite dictionary, is a noun that describes a person who enjoys fine food. A more appropriate term would be ‘gourmand’. Gourmet as an adjective is not defined in any dictionary I have at hand, but since I’m pretty sure that these crackers are not made from, nor contain any part of, a person who enjoys fine food, I’ll assume that, in this context, the word is used as an adjective meant to describe fine food.

Let me now describe these crackers. They are packed in cardboard and plastic, the only natural ingredients listed on the box are flour, oil, sugar, and salt, and they are perforated so that each wafer breaks into four separate crackers. This may be an egregious example of an incredibly bland product, but the concept that the word gourmet no longer has any discernible meaning is well illustrated. I’d like to go out on a limb and postulate that any foodstuff that has perforations would not be considered by anybody in his right mind to be a gourmet product.

Hence, my nomination for most inflated word in the English language goes to the word gourmet. I considered nominating the word only, but ‘only’ is the Polish Zloty of the English language. Several million only’s will buy you a single peanut if you’re lucky. Pete mentioned recently that he worked in retail, and his shame is mine as well, for I too once worked in retail. The large chain we worked at offered a piece of software that was used to create price tags. The entire thing was configurable; you could enter a product description, subtitle, and price. The only thing that was immutable was the presence of the word only
in front of every single price. That video cable? Only twenty dollars. A camera battery? Only fourteen. Only’s hardly a word any more. It’s a form of punctuation. Sadly I feel that allowing only to compete in my little election would be unfair to words that are actually words.

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