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Is there a name for adjectives like beautiful, incredible, amazing, etc.? Adjectives that are often generically substitutable when, say, describing vacation resorts, or the like. Preferably a name that doesn't sound salesperson-ey, but I'm curious to know those too, so do comment.

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Meaningless? Boilerplate? Cliché? Marketese? Boring? Fluff? Insubstantial? Run-of-the-mill? Superfluous? Not really sure what you're after. (On a side note, arguably all adjectives in marketing are like that. Nobody would ever say, "our beer tastes bad", or "we use the unfinest ingredients", or "our rooms are cold and hideous".) –  RegDwigнt Dec 5 '12 at 11:18
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Fungible quasi-synonyms, hyperbolic tokens, hyper-hogwash, and baldfaced lies? –  user21497 Dec 5 '12 at 11:24
    
It's not clear what direction you're looking for. 'Generic', 'hyperbole', 'lies', 'euphemisms','subjective'. Something else? What general direction are you looking for? This needs more examples and context. –  Mitch Dec 5 '12 at 13:02
    
Apologies to everyone for responding so late! @Mitch - This was part of a tongue-in-cheek trip description, "Walk ancient streets, travel through mountains, ride a camel into the Sahara, venture across 300-foot sand dunes, and spend the night under the stars, hours away from civilization. We didn't even need the [extra adjectives] for this one." (The other trips frequently use words like beautiful, incredible, amazing, etc.) I was looking for a commonly-known word to replace [extra adjectives]. Regardless, I learned a lot from this thread, so thank you, everyone who responded! –  Andrew Cheong Dec 7 '12 at 17:56
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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Words like those that have been stripped of semantic content and are used in a vain attempt to add emotion are usually called intensifiers.

intensifier a word, esp an adjective or adverb, that has little semantic content of its own but that serves to intensify the meaning of the word or phrase that it modifies.

See this entry.

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Is beautiful really an intensifier? AFAIK words like "very" or "most" are intensifiers –  Armen Ծիրունյան Dec 5 '12 at 13:28
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They become so through overuse and when merely used as filler. –  Robusto Dec 5 '12 at 13:38
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When used to the extreme exaggeration, "Hyperbole" comes to mind:

From the Wikipedia Dictionary:

hy·per·bo·le (/hīˈpərbəlē/), Noun

Exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally. Synonyms: exaggeration - hyperbola - overstatement


From the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

Latin, from Greek hyperbolē excess, hyperbole, hyperbola, from hyperballein to exceed, from hyper- + ballein to throw First Known Use: 15th century

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They're Polar predicates. They lie at the pole of a semantic cline, like freezing and boiling:

  • freezing - cold - cool - tepid - warm - hot - boiling

They're not the only ones, of course. The semantic test for them in English is use of absolute(ly), which is limited to use with polar predicates.

  • It's absolutely freezing in here.
  • *It's absolutely cold in here.
  • *It's absolutely cool in here.
  • *It's absolutely tepid in here.
  • *It's absolutely warm in here.
  • *It's absolutely hot in here.
  • It's absolutely boiling in here.

Absolute(ly) also distinguishes the polar 'crazy' sense of mad from its non-polar 'angry' sense.

  • He's mad about the horses. (ambiguous: either 'angry' or 'crazy')
  • He's absolutely mad about the horses. (unambiguous: 'crazy')

Thus, note the grammaticality of

  • absolutely beautiful
  • absolutely incredible
  • absolutely amazing

and of course

  • Absolutely Fabulous.
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If those words were about a person, it would be empty flattery. Maybe trite adjectives would serve for your purposes? I don't think there's a single word term to describe these words. Easier to come by are terms to describe the act of using overstated but meaningless adjectives and terms to label a person doing this. Depending on situation examples are: gloating, over-stating, being over-the-top, stupendifying (?), facecious, suck-up.

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The word I use most often is "nondescript". I use it with writers in discussing words that poorly describe their subjects, but it is generally a good description of your cohort of adjectives.

nondescript (adj.):

  • belonging or appearing to belong to no particular class or kind : not easily described
  • lacking distinctive or interesting qualities
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