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May 18, 2016

In several of the essays I have had to mark recently, students, even very good ones, have taken to using incredibly as an intensifier. For example they might say something like “YA fiction today often tackles incredibly serious themes”. It seems they don’t realise how colloquial this sounds. To me incredibly is not essay-language at all. If you want an intensifier in an academic essay, reach for extremely or highly. But perhaps I’m behind the times? The literal meaning of incredible is already all but lost. So using it as an intensifier perhaps no longer sounds exaggerated or slangy to younger ears. Perhaps not just student essays but academic papers and monographs and textbooks and Times leaders will be full of incrediblys in a few years time. In fact I would say that’s incredibly likely.

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One Comment
  1. Mark Brafield permalink

    When I hear cases in court as a judge, I have to decide whether the evidence given by a witness is credible or not. That is my job. I have registered a fine distinction here. If the opposing barrister says that ‘the version of events given by the witness is not credible’, then that sounds formal and weighty. The sort of thing, in fact, that a judge should be concerning himself with. However, if the same barrister were to say ‘this version of events is incredible’ then it would sound hysterical and melodramatic. The judge might even decide that the barrister is trying too hard and actually go against the suggested interpretation. I suppose it is the difference between something being unable to be believed, and being unbelievable.

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