All Opinions Wrong But Useful

@rixx@chaos.social · @rixxtr

Hyperbole Into Nuance


I have previously written about the weirdness of hyperbolic language and I haven’t been entirely fair towards hyperbole: It has its uses.

Hyperbole is a good starting point if you want to use humour for good and don’t know how to start, for one. Taking a complex thing or situation and exaggerating one or two aspects is a comedic staple and the most important principle in caricatures.

But it’s also good to find more nuanced opinions. Recently I had a very instructive discussion with a friend who could not name or remember his emotions most of the time. (This is still mind-boggling to me, and apparently more common than I can imagine). We tried a few approaches that turned out to be completely unsuited because they assumed some prior knowledge or even familiarity with emotional processing. What helped, in the end, were exaggerations. “If you can pick only ‘overjoyed’ or ‘terrible’, what’s closer to how you’re feeling right now?” was not only useful in getting an answer – any answer – but also helped to triangulate the next line of questioning, for example “More like terrible, but only because of my family”.

The triangulation process is very useful, because it forces you to clarify – it’s easier to correct a marginal error (even if the margin is very large) than to come up with something out of thin air. It’s Newton’s method, applied to words/semantics/opinions/feelings/anything. Meta Newton. Interestingly enough, converging on a true (here meaning: useful) opinion starting from hyperbole even shares the common pitfalls of Newton’s method:

So there you have it: Hyperbole is useful in certain places the absolute best, after all!

¹ Yes, Newton’s method does not get you stuck on tangents. C’mon, bear with me.