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Kategorien/Categories:    ›EN‹  ›Sprachkultur/Language culture‹  ›Transatlantic‹   –  22.01.2014

Linguistic inflation

While Europe is experiencing a milder-than-average winter, North America is firmly in the grip of very icy temperatures. Apparently, the cold has a mind-numbing effect as well, as we seem to be witnessing an uptick in weather-related linguistic inflation lately.

hurricane seen from spaceRecently, much of the US suffered through the mysterious “polar vortex”. The first time I heard that term, it sounded like something from an old Star-Trek episode. Much ado was made ahead of the fact that a big chunk of the country would be under the influence of very cold polar air masses. Perhaps we would have called it a “low pressure system” in the old days, forcing polar temperatures well further south than normal. But The Vortex made for great hyperbole and even better news stories. You just had to be afraid of the killer cold.

Nowadays, we don’t seem to have simple storms, blizzards or cold fronts anymore. Instead, we pull out all the lingual stops to describe an array of “extreme weather events”. A record-setting, massive storm that is headed our way fuels a run for food and water… but may end up bringing nothing more than some light flurries or a drizzle. So what do we do when the sh** really hits the fan?

lightening in the skyTake Hurricane Sandy, by now a textbook example. A hurricane is, by definition, already a pretty severe storm – but that was not enough. So the weather folks created the Frankenstorm – a terrifying monster of a storm. This term, in the end, was deemed just a bit too much, leaving us with the alliterative Superstorm Sandy. Will the next big one be a Hyperstorm?

Global warming is messing up our climate and our weather patterns. We are experiencing more severe weather, from extreme storms to heat waves and prolonged droughts. So if we keep upping the ante trying to describe these events – where will it end? Pretty soon, everyone will be hammering away in their back yards, building their arks. Perhaps the weather-related linguistic inflation is our way of reacting to the sobering fact that the face of our earth is changing? Undeniably, and, until we finally do something about it, unstoppably. But heck, if linguistic hyperbole is the way to wake us all up, I am all for it. I’m just wondering where we’ll find a pair of giraffes up here in the North Country?