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May 5, 2005

News & Opinion: Superlatives aren't super

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 2:13 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

David Scott writes: "I often see words and phrases such as 'cutting-edge,' 'leading,' 'premier,' 'fastest' and the like so often that I dont even read them anymore. Should good copy include superlatives? Or not? Are there any rules to follow in their use?"
Exellent (if you'll forgive the superlative) question. Like engine-additives, superlatives are often used to give us an extra boost or charge. But they're applied so often and so indiscriminately that they backfire; instead of accelerating our message, they dissolve it into white noise.
The alternative? Replace superlatives with hard facts. Perhaps the "cutting-edge" service can be described as the one "featured in Fast Company magazine." Maybe the "leading company" is "rated by I.M. Associates as the most respected widget producer in North America." Or the "fastest" thingamabob is "32% faster than competing products."
In sum, superlatives aren't super because they aren't credible. Specific, particular facts, clearly articulated, build conviction. In most instances, it's best to stick with the facts.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.