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December 30, 2012 » 3:27 pm

“Very” vs “Really”

I was painstakingly transcribing a recipe in Korean earlier today, and my sister — who was glancing over my shoulder — noted the word, “아주,” which means “very.”

“I was told that that’s an old person’s word,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“Young people don’t use that word. They say, ‘진짜.'” (“진짜” roughly translates to “really.”)

It took me a while to wrap my head around the notion of a generational divide for the word, “very,” but I realized that it’s true in English here in the U.S. as well. I almost never say, “I’m very hungry.” Instead, I’ll say:

  • “I’m really hungry.”
  • “I’m starving.”
  • “I’m ravenous.”
  • “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.”
  • “Get away from me before I tear your head off and eat it for lunch.”

I wonder how “very” became old-fashioned, both in English and in Korean.

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4 Responses to ““Very” vs “Really””

  1. On a slightly different tangent, I've tried in the last few years to eradicate as many qualifiers from my writing as possible, especially when the goal is persuasion. Well, I suppose it's persuasive writing that invites the use of them to begin with.

  2. Hmm, that comment got truncated. Continued…

    This concept is something my junior high language arts teacher tried to emphasize, but it didn't really click with me until I got active in blog discussions (especially politics) and Wikipedia decision-making.

    If, for instance, I want to persuade people that something is important, I find that saying "This is really important" or "This is very important" tends to set it up as a target, and invite an opposing view. Stating simply "This is important" leaves the reader hungry: why did he say that? How strongly does he feel? Maybe I should read on to find out.

    It's fun to look at Wikipedia decisions through this lens: in a big discussion, if you look at the people using the strongest language ("This is totally at odds with policy…" or "I strongly oppose"), I think you'll find they tend not to be the ones who sway opinions. It's emotionally satisfying to say stuff like that, but I don't think it's (very) effective.

  3. I notice the generational gap when I look at the use of synonyms for "goodd" in Swiss German. Clearly, what was "good" for one generation was useless for the next. In fact, what the next generation used was inevitably something the previous generation felt to be rude and terrbile. Examples include the words crazy, super, awesome, horny. (I have no idea what the young ones use these days but I'd be surprised if I didn't think it offensive on some level.)

  4. Oh yeah, there are more ancient words in current English than you could shake a stick at…

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