Panflation–The Devaluation of Everything – Economist

(Catching up on a backlog of interesting things to share).

The Economist, two weeks ago, had this excellent leader about the pernicious effect of the continuing inflation of titles, ratings, exam results, sizes and anything that has any suggestion of scale or hierarchy.

Some examples are laughably familiar: why is Starbucks’ smallest coffee “Tall”?  Why do some hotels no longer have Standard rooms but a froth of grades beginning with “deluxe”.  Similarly, six and seven star hotels abound while even some five star hotels offer surprisingly pedestrian service.

Other examples are shocking and poisonous in their effect: a study by Durham University finds that an A grade in today’s English A Levels is equivalent to a C grade in the 1980s; in American universities 45% of graduates now get the top grade compared with just 15% in the 1960s.  Neither mollified stupidity nor obscured intelligence is well served by such inflation.  No-one now truly believes in what was once England’s gold standard in education.  Employers struggle to sort the seed wheat from the gilded chaff of over-graded applicants.

Similarly, while 75% of Americans and 60% of Britons are overweight, the Economist finds that today’s size 14 trousers (UK women’s size) is equivalent to a size 18 from the 1970s; a size 10 is a 1970s’ size 14.

A lot of this inflation is linguistic (in the UK, it sometimes feels as if everyone is a Director of something, ideally something suitably obscure) and it’s an area that writer Matthew Stibbe rails against with regular eloquence (try here or here, for example).

As writers and marketers, we need to use words with care, sparingly and with accuracy.

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