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Intensifiers with a Blonde Twist

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By ANNE DONNELL

Have you ever heard of an “intensifier”? I’m getting an education from my granddaughter’s education! They’re learning so much nowadays that I never heard of back in the days of the three R’s. Is it really better?-Grandmother in Neighboring Town First, intensifiers are adverbs applied to verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs to provide strength.  A site online called “Changing Minds,” dedicated to the techniques of persuasion, includes a helpful passage, “Amplify the effect of a verb by using an adverb that intensifies the meaning and particularly the emotional content. Use the intensifier to subtly suggest to the other person what emotions they should feel.  In the same way, you can also use adverbs to attenuate and reduce the natural emotional content of a verb.” http://changingminds.org/techniques/language/persuasive/intensifiers.htm

 Many intensifiers have lost their power. EXAMPLES OF COMMON INTENSIFIERS very, really, intensely, extremely, so, too [when not meaning also], remarkably, pretty, quite, a bit, a lot, fantastically [ugh on that last one. As fantastic, it was a predecessor of awesome, now used by three year olds.]

You can do all this with a negative effect, not surprisingly. Otherwise that half or more of our population that adores grim and gloom and excitedly anticipates doom would be awash in a sea of no expression. Hollywood appreciates those people, and our language frees their expression. EXAMPLES OF NEGATIVE INTENSIFIERS awfully, dreadfully, fearfully, terribly, ridiculously, insanely, never, disgustingly, hideously. 

Intensifiers easily lend themselves to sarcasm. Add a sneer. EXAMPLES. Yeah, squeeze it so hard it breaks - that’s really smart. Didn’t she look too, too cute – sixty years old in striped leggings!

Why do we want to use these intensifiers so often?  We want forceful, memorable words when we speak and write.  We want those children we told to stop what they’re doing to stop what they’re doing. EXAMPLES OF ADMONITIONS USING INTERSIFIERS ADDRESSED TO CHILDREN WHO WILL PROBABLY CONTINUE IN WRONGDOING.  I really mean it this time.  You’re going to be very sorry, young man.  You two are in a lot of trouble.  It will be quite a long time before I forget this.  Your dad will never get over this.

We use intensifiers because we want people to listen to us, to read what we write and to remember us. I think we choose memorable (memory of me and my language) over forceful (powerful, compelling), a concession to the needs of ego.  Power is tougher to get and generally involves more than using words, at least it does when playing the Mafia game on Facebook. Yes, I’ve been whiling away the hours with pretend machine guns.

To study forceful language, check out the White House. President Obama is a masterful orator and writer, matching words and manner very forcefully. Unquestionably this has helped his career and causes.  Perhaps he’s the nation’s best orator, one of them certainly, wherever you stand on his policies and politics.

Back to intensifiers -- intensifiers are like antibiotics: overuse kills effectiveness.  Exaggeration, another tool of strong, colorful, memorable language (and sort of a subcategory of intensifiers) needs to carry the same warning label. Good expression, written and spoken, demands  balance with the flavoring of intensity mixed in but not dominant. A little goes a long way. 

So, is this the moment for some blonde jokes? Oh, why not! (Thanks, JD & JA) • A blonde, tired of the jokes and comments at her expense, told her fellow workers she was planning a big surprise for them the next morning. Skipping into work the next day, she demands, “Ask me the capital of any state. I memorized them all last night.” A voice from the back of the room shouts, “What is the capital of Nevada, then?”  With a brilliant and condescending smile the blonde answers, “Of course I know that. It’s ‘N.’” • A neighbor watched the blonde excitedly jumping up and down in her front yard.  “I’m so happy,” she said. And when he asked why she replied, “I’m less than a week pregnant. And that’s not all.” He congratulated her and inquired about the rest of her news. “It’s twins!” the blonde answered. The neighbor was taken aback but gamely asked how did she know.  The blonde replied triumphantly, “Two pregnancy tests were BOTH positive!” • A blonde is watching the news with her husband when the newscaster says: "Two Brazilian men die in a skydiving accident.” The blonde starts crying to her husband, "That's horrible!  So many men dying that way!" Confused, he says, "Yes, dear, it is sad, but they were skydiving - there’s risk involved." After a few minutes, the blonde, still sobbing, says, "How many is a Brazilian?"

Another Surprising Romantic Word Derivation – elope – comes from an old Middle English word meaning leap away, but it was formerly applied to women running away from their husbands. Forget Ringgold, GA.

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