I recently encountered two instances of apparently hyperbolic terms that were used without any realisation that the traditional implications were far more serious / demanding / extreme.

  1. Someone said their husband had been "run over" last night. To me that meant tires crushing bones and organs, but it turned out that he had slid up the bonnet (hood) of the car and had only a slight bruise. But to the speaker, "run over" was an appropriate expression for being hit by a car in any manner whatsoever. This is possibly a British expression.

  2. A recipe said to boil something at a medium setting for 2 to 3 minutes. I heated it to the boiling point, turned it to medium, and boiled it for 2.5 minutes, and completely ruined it. Apparently in India, "boil" doesn't mean boil; it means heat or warm. I can't find the original recipe that I had the problem with, but here's a recipe with the same problem - YouTube. At 1:10, it says:

    Pour the milk in a deep pan and boil on a medium flame for 1 to 2 minutes or till the milk is lukewarm.

    This one at least makes it obvious that "boil" cannot possibly mean boil. Why they couldn't say "Heat to 85°C" as I later found elsewhere, I don't know.

These are two examples of exaggerations of the actual situations reported, using expressions that seem to have lost their original more 'drastic' or extreme meaning, at least in certain regions of the English speaking world.

Is there a term for such words or expressions, or the process that creates them?

  • 1
    It's semantic shift, broadening (because the original sense is still retained [in some areas]) but I'd not call it 'pejoration'. The usage has become less precise. As 'boil' now apparently means 'heat to 85°C' as well as 'heat to boiling', we have the hypernymy - with - polysemy confusion. I hate it. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 10 '19 at 16:53
  • An ameliorated exaggeration? – marcellothearcane Sep 10 '19 at 16:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.