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“Grilled to perfection”…..”baked to perfection”…..”framed to perfection”…..”cut to perfection”…..oh my goodness! Really? I don’t know whether you’ve noticed this, but it seems that everywhere you look someone is touting the perfection of their steak, their haircuts, their cupcakes, their cleaning services. You name it and you’ll find someone out there is trying to convince us that their product is perfect.
Ok, first, I have to ask….what do all these people have against adverbs ending in “ly?” I get that these can be overused, but why avoid them entirely? Will people somehow think less of the taste of your cupcakes if you describe them as “perfectly baked morsels of velvety chocolate cake” rather than “chocolate cupcakes baked to perfection?” I don’t entirely understand why, but the phrase “to perfection” just annoys me. Which brings me to my second question, how did we end up deciding that so many things have been done “to perfection” anyway?
According to Merriam-Webster, “perfection” means flawless, possessing unsurpassable excellence or even being saintly. While I can appreciate someone displaying confidence in their own abilities, there is simply no way the cupcakes or the haircuts or the steaks are flawless nor unsurpassable in their excellence, let alone saintly. (Sorry, talking about less than saintly chocolate cupcakes has, of course, caused my mind to wander over to devil’s food cake….completely distracted…..ok, I’m back now.)
I understand that I have “a thing” about the words “to perfection.” However, I believe this drive to describe so many things as perfect says something not entirely humorous about our society. I wonder whether the years of focusing on building self-esteem by giving everyone a trophy for participating are resulting in our decreasing understanding of what unsurpassable excellence truly looks like. I wonder whether our overuse of “to perfection” is a symptom of our collectively decreasing vocabulary and reading skills and, therefore, also our increasingly limited ability to describe how we experience life. I also wonder whether our overuse of “to perfection” is a result of marketing inundation. Perhaps only something declared flawless can hope to break through the cacophony of marketing noise and grab enough attention to sell, whether it’s a product or a political candidate.
This makes me think of a game we played as kids that went something like this. First kid, “I’m so strong, I can carry my little sister and she weighs 20 pounds.” To which the second kind replies, “that’s nothing. I’m so strong I can carry 100 pounds.” First kid, “well, I can carry 100 million pounds.” The second kid then wins with the ultimate argument, “well, I can carry to infinity pounds!” The kids didn’t have to know what infinity actually means. They understood that you can’t get any bigger than infinity. “To perfection” seems like the grown up version of “to infinity,” it’s the ultimate argument winner. The down side, of course, is that if we begin to believe that even ordinary things are flawless, we may no longer be able to acknowledge or even recognize when there’s still room for improvement.