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Mark Bittman wrote a piece for the New York Times on-line edition about exaggeration. He was referencing the arguments and accusations that are swirling around the food business, from the overuses of sugar, salt and fat, the marketing of such products, the genetically engineered products that can resist Round Up and so on. The arguments get heated and conflate with exaggeration when these subjects arise and objective, factual discourse dissolves. Half truths abound and they are easily rebuffed by the people who wish to either hide the truth or be the avenging angels.

I used to be so enthusiastic about the furniture I sold that I would refer to a piece as “the best I had ever seen on the market”. This was factually accurate to my experience, but in truth, markets shift and move, pieces come and go. Great English furniture will go off the market for years, making it seem like it is gone forever. But it does return and until that time, the use of the superlative is conditional at best. Indeed, the superlative is seldom relevant when talking about any kind of art. It either speaks to you or it doesn’t.

Experience is the essence of understanding. An antique dealer who has seen very little can talk in superlatives all day long, but exaggeration, in this case, belies experience. Indeed, it leads you to believe that exaggeration when used in selling is, by definition, inaccurate. When you have looked at thousands and thousands of chairs, for example, you realize that the greatest chair is one that is unique and that all chairs are unique. In fact, you become humbled through understanding and the penchant for talking about something as “the best” becomes absurd. As it should.