Kingsley Amis on the King’s English

December 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

An exciting film used to be so called because of the shoot-ups, car-chases, etc. it contained; now a film is said to be exciting if it contains what are thought to be innovations in technique, setting, etc. In fact, a person from the quite recent past might expect whole populations to be in a state of nervous collapse, so exhausted must they be by ceaseless exciting dishes, exciting drinks, exciting styles of dress or adornment, exciting new offers, exciting suggestions about anything and everything in their lives. A comparable person of our day, however, has learnt that exciting is just another advertiser’s word used of a product that with luck will catch people’s fancy and in sober language turn out to be mildly interesting or pleasurable.

Having ridiculed what was then a newish absurdity in a novel of 1968, I had started to hope that exciting in this sense had passed its sell-by-date (to use another shopworn  novelty). No such luck. This very morning I get a letter from somebody calling herself a Customer Service Manager informing me that ‘so far, this has been an exciting year for Cable London customers.’ I doubt whether the two excitement-engendering events quoted, the launching of a new Travel Channel in April and of Sky Sport 2 in August are quite enough to do the whole job between them . . Kingsley Amis in The King’s English (1997)

A few weeks ago the local council sent out details about the exciting improvements to a busy High Street near me. I am not sure if the proposals themselves were exciting or what was proposed. In any event, something was considered to be exciting. So for more than forty years, advertisers have been tantalising us with exciting things.

Exciting has long lost its novelty. It is surprising that people haven’t discarded exciting in favour of a word that is more exciting than exciting. For example, once people were interested in things, then (1980s) they were into or really into things, and a decade later they were passionate about things. Now, people (on a personal level) are obsessed with things. However, business people are usually just passionate (though some may be obsessed) about what their company makes or the services it supplies.

Would advertisers lose all credibility if they tried to tantalise us with thrilling offers or offers that would send us into paroxysms of ecstasy?

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