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OnWords: Picture Imperfect

Bruce Berrien flickr Creative Commons

As a budding curmudgeon, I’m bothered by the proliferation of the word “perfect,” notably among those in the service industry, to describe, well, darn near everything.

I suppose it feels good for wait-staff to compliment my choice of the nicoise salad by saying “perfect,” but honestly, no matter how good my taste or how good the salad, there’s probably nothing perfect about the situation.

I just made a simple choice; next time it might be the Caesar, or maybe the slaw.

I’m not sure where this proliferation of “perfect” came from, but it has the hallmark of other words used far from their denotations, such as “awesome” or “wicked” or “dope.” They start in a specific context, spread all over the language, then quickly lose the impact they once possessed.

In this case, “perfect” seems to have become an intensified sort of affirmation, as a maître d’ might have used “excellent” in years past.

“Excellent,” while almost equally misused, doesn’t strike me as being as wrong as “perfect,” which, like the word “unique,” has a special status by conferring a special meaning.

Just as there can’t be anything the same as whatever is unique, there can’t be anything better than whatever is perfect.

So go ahead and flatter my choice as “excellent.” Even though it isn’t, it’s still closer to excellent than it is to perfect.

A good tip is assured no matter how flawed my culinary choices may be.