Should People Stop Saying "Absolutely" So Much? Absolutely! – A Short Rant on an Overused Expression and Why it Should be Avoided

011215One of the most overused terms in modern speech is the word “absolutely.” As in, “Do you want some gravy with those potatoes?” “Absolutely!” Or, “Would you agree that solution ‘X’ is the best solution to problem ‘Y’?”  “Absolutely!” What to call this … an expression? A semantic substitution for “yes?” A logism? A hyperbole? A grandiloquence? A periphrasis? Why this obsession with saying “absolutely” or its strange step-sister, “exactly”?

It is a strange paradox that in an age of relativism, an age that emphasizes personal opinion and subjective feelings over objective truth, so many people substitute for “yes” words like “absolutely,” “exactly,” “precisely,” “positively,” and so forth.

Perhaps we subconsciously seek certainty in an age of uncertainty. Or perhaps, in an age of hypersensitivity, we seek to overemphasize to people that we are “100% on board” with what they have said.

And now you may ask, “Why do you keep saying ‘perhaps’? Are you indicating a lack of certainty in your conclusion?” Absolutely! I have no idea why people use this word so much today. And NOW you ask, “Why do you say you have NO idea? Is it not really the case that you have some idea and that your saying ‘NO idea’ is reflective of the tendency for people to use hyperbole (exaggeration) for emphasis?” Yes! Absolutely! Exactly! So perhaps people are using “absolutely” merely as hyperbole.

Well, as you can see, we humans use a lot of rather excessive and categorical ways of speaking, even while at the same time using qualifiers such as “perhaps” and “sort of.” We are very strange. Which is really (or should I say perhaps) another way of saying that we are somewhat strange.

But, back to “absolutely.” Avoid saying this word for three reasons:

1. It’s getting annoying. I think it has surpassed “you know” and “like” on the annoyance meter. I want you to know that I never use any of these terms. 😉

2. You don’t really mean it. It’s more likely that you just mean “yes” or “I’m generally on board with what you said.” So say what you mean and own it.

3. Even for those of us who do not come from an “everything’s relative” mindset, affirming things “absolutely” is not usually recommended. There’s an old saying (playful in its own way), “Seldom affirm, never deny, always distinguish.” In other words, most statements, positions, views, rules, etc. admit of exceptions, need context, and/or require distinctions. Few things are “absolutely” the case. The road sign at the upper right is not absolutely true. If it were, there would be nothing to indicate, nothing to point at; there would be no next 22 miles at all.

Even commandments like “Thou shalt not kill” require some distinctions and context. Thus, in the commandment, “kill” is used more in the sense of “murder.” For in rare cases, one is able to kill as a last recourse if it is necessary to save one’s own life (self-defense) or the lives of others. Further, “killing” is often distinguished to mean premeditated, intentional killing (first degree murder) and other lesser degrees such as accidental killing due to irresponsibility (manslaughter), etc. So even if someone asks, “So would you agree with me that killing people is wrong?” it should not usually produce the answer, “Absolutely!” or “Exactly!”

Now, there ARE absolute moral norms such as “Never kill the innocent” and “Never blaspheme God.” But most things admit of exceptions (even if rare) and are not in fact “absolute.”

Does my correction seem dangerous to you? Of course it does. But we who live in an age of excessive relativism ought not overreact by insisting that more things are absolute than actually are, or that the only certainty is absolute certainty. Most rules, norms, and teachings do have exceptions and most of what we know has varying degrees of certainty. Most of us who have faith can be most certain about what God has definitively revealed. But even here, simply pulling a quote from the Bible or the Catechism is not enough. We need to understand a given truth or line from the Bible in the context of the whole of revealed truth, which sometimes qualifies, balances, or distinguishes it.

Many today who oppose the moral teachings of Scripture and the Church do this by reducing everything about the Lord to a “God is love” argument, as if the fact that He loves us means He would never say anything that might upset us. And thus one concept from Scripture is absolutized and read without understanding or referring to anything else. Yes, God is love, but He also loves us too much to lie to us. God loves us enough to tell us the truth and, if necessary, to hit us over the head with it.

The bottom line is, avoid saying “absolutely,” though I don’t mean this absolutely. Jesus gets the last word: Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one (Matt 5:37).

Can I get an “Absolutely!”?  err … I mean, can I get an “Amen!”?

18 Replies to “Should People Stop Saying "Absolutely" So Much? Absolutely! – A Short Rant on an Overused Expression and Why it Should be Avoided”

  1. I must not run around in the same circles as you, because I don’t hear the word “absolutely” all that often. But two other words I seem to hear constantly used (especially, it seems, by those under 25 years old) to describe an impressive experience is “awesome” and “epic.” There are “awesome” vistas, and “awesome” sales, and “awesome” sporting events, and “epic” trips, and “epic” meals, and “epic” movies. This is not from the media. These are the adjectives used in common conversation to describe something experienced as wonderful or happy.

    I don’t know what superlatives are left that can be bludgeoned into meaninglessness, but I hope they find them soon.

    1. Along with ‘absolutely’, I had no idea that ‘epic’ had come into usage. So, I run in neither Monsignor Pope’s circle nor in yours. I suggest ‘absolutely epic’ as the new phrase of the day.

  2. Absolutely must be an east coast fad, I do not hear it very often, unlike “awesome” or “like.” What I have been noticing lately is when I say thank you to a wait staff or a clerk or to a stranger who held a door for me, the response is, “no problem.” I don’t get it. What happened to, “you are welcome?’ What does ‘no problem” mean? Thank you for refilling my coffee. No problem. Stop tha!
    Then there is the person who is telling you something and you interject something of your own and they say, “whatever,” and then go on to something else. It seems they are telling me that what I had to say was wasting their time and what they have to say is so much more important. Very strange, but no problem.

  3. Amen. I’m also weary of the overuse of the exclamation point! And smiley faces:)

  4. If I was Pope, I would give one-hundred days off from Purgatory for whoever listened to all of ‘Words’ and met all of the other requirements for a partial indulgence. Absolutely, maybe!

  5. Reminds me of another commonly misused/overused hyperbole word: “literally”.

  6. Instead of The Devil and Daniel Webster, it’s become The Devil in Daniel Webster.

  7. In the South, when asked how one is, some answer, “fantastic,” “marvelous,” or “wonderful.” I would love to respond, who says you’re fantastic, wonderful or marvelous.

  8. Oh Mgr Charles – I totally, utterly and absolutely agree – I think!
    According to the philosophical use of the word, there are not too many ‘absolutes’. Good and evil are absolutes – and so is God Himself – I’m glad to say!
    I love it when you you write, (as you do occasionally), about the misuse or overuse of certain words, as it is one of my pet hates also.
    One of the real hum-dingers for me is the constant misuse of ‘unique’ together (quite wrongly) with other adjectives!!
    How often do we hear that something is, ‘quite’ unique, ‘totally’ unique or even ‘almost’ unique. ‘Very’ unique is a quite amusing one – given the true meaning of the word! And – how about, “That’s about as unique as it gets!” Oh dear!
    Still – I suppose we could say, ‘Absolutely unique’ – so that there will never again be any misunderstanding that what we are talking and writing about is without doubt, absolutely stand-alone definitive and can never again be confused with that which is absolutely not unique. I think I would be very happy to give my absolute agreement to that proposal. And that is absolutely all I wish to say on the matter!
    I wish you all a spiffing and absolutely wonderful new year . . . . . !!
    God bless – Ray

  9. Amen to that, Monsi. Please include also, ‘I love…-instead of like, awesome-not really, oh my god-omg-which is using GOD’s Name in vain-maybe a lesser god is being called, you know-as punctuation marks-as though I know which I do not know yet, great-even though it is not even good/great, practically-even though it is impractical and perfect-which is not even perfect because it is not absolutely perfect. Yay! Hahaha, we are funny! Sorry about the exclamation point. Maybe in the afterlife we will say what we mean and mean what we say. In the meantime, I love trying absolutely to refrain from using these words, you know! Whatever. (That, too). GOD Bless you all. 🙂

  10. What I hear a lot from where I live is
    “Seriously” and “Just sayin”. Also,
    “No worries “. Are those just Midwest sayings?

  11. Where did that bad grammatical expression “go missing” come from? How does one “go” missing? Missing in this case is not like the sentence, “going fishing.” Missing is a passive verb should take a helping verb, i.e., “is”. He “is” missing, not he “went” missing.

  12. This all seemed to start a few years ago with the word “perfect”. In Canada the one cent piece has been eliminated so, when I pay for an item that costs $5.46 or $5.44 with a five dollar bill and forty five cents in coins the clerk will, over half the time, say “perfect”.
    About the time I first noticed this being proliferated locally I read, in this ‘blog, a comment objecting to this exaggeration so, I started checkng for it elsewhere and found it springing up all over English speaking North America in a virtually simultaneous manner.
    If there is some conspiracy to proliferate why has it spread so suddenly, and thouroughly, across such a large geographic and cross cultural manner? Working in the taxi industry cuts across a broad cross section of cultures and I was very puzzled to see it emerge all at once and everywhere. That’s cross-cultural locally and across North America, as reported in ‘blogs.
    Could it be that, Christ’s challenge to us to strive for perfection; which was introduced in a 33 year period has now carried on for almost two thousand years since He ascended but promised to keep helping from a distance; has caused society to look for a shortcut by adopting an illusion of a heavenly state by falsely declaring “perfect; absolutely and feeling fantastic, marvelous and wonderful?
    You commented, not too long ago, on society dropping away from heaven as a desired destination. Perhaps improving and healing in the mental/emotional and in the spiritual has been replaced as prescriptions and behavioural means have resulted in the sick acting and appearing healthy.
    Like, we’ve been travelling across the desert so long and we’re not at the promised land yet so – we’ll all stop at this oasis and pretend that it can provide for a vast number of people indefinitely. And don’t be telling anyyone that it always dries up in mid summer; that wouldn’t be “nice” because it would make them “feel bad”

    1. Oops, I was absolutely imperfect.
      Forgot to mention Matthew 9:9-13 where the Physician was mentioned. These days it seems to be more about the feel healthy than finding a Physician who can help us become healthy.

  13. Mnsgr, what a completely, absolutely wonderful post!! All the comments made me laugh over my morning coffee – an absolutely wonderful cup of cha at that might I say!
    I am originally from England and now reside here in the US. I was shocked at all the exaggerated grammar when I first came here, what an abuse of the beautiful English language. I remember people would greet me with “what’s up?” I would reply “nothing, why would you ask me that?”
    My other frustrating comment is “I don’t care”. “Would you like to meet for coffee or lunch?” Reply “I don’t care!” How rude! Why not just say ” I have no preference” or something similar.
    All these words used in exaggeration I feel is just to elevate themselves. Let’s keep it simple. Let’s remain humble. I can’t imagine Our Blessed Mother using these kinds of responses.
    Thank you for the time you give in writing these blogs. Always food for thought. God Bless.

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