On the StinkTrain this morning, the transit cops made their annual appearance to ensure we drones had all paid our fare. The woman across from me was understandably caught off-guard, and had to rifle through about 50 assorted credit cards, drivers licenses, store loyalty cards, home pregnancy tests, etc. to find her pass. While she was doing it, the transit cop stood there like a 10 year old ready to trade baseball cards. Every card she produced that wasn’t a transit pass or Rollie Fingers rookie card was met with him saying “nope…”

“…nope…nope…nope…nope…nope…nope…nope…” and then finally “…THERE IT IS! You’re golden.”

It struck me that “you’re golden” was awfully high praise for something as mundane as finding your bus pass in the place you’d most expect to. That got me thinking that our collective propensity for exaggeration has the effect of making truly superlative things essentially indescribable. If producing a bus pass for a transit cop makes you golden, what would you be if you did something truly remarkable like saving somebody’s life or walking on the moon?

“You saved my life! You’re golden, along with all the other transition metals! And the lanthanoids too!”

If you ever walked on the moon, the logical extension would be that you’d be all of the above along with the halogens and noble gases.

It doesn’t take long for anything that’s used routinely to become de-valued. I personally notice it most with people who laugh too frequently (usually out of social awkwardness in my experience). People who laugh at everything make everything worth nothing. Same goes for people who are angry all the time. Their anger has no impact because they’re mad at everything, always. You can’t tell when people like that are truly amused or truly angry.

I suppose the transit cop unthinkingly fell into the cultural trap of trying to make everything seem better than it is. He wanted to be Mr. Positive. For some reason, that’s seen as a worthwhile trait by lots of people. I see myself as a pragmatist, so to me an attitude like that just makes you look like a happy idiot. In my opinion, what he should have said when the woman found her pass was “thank you”. It’s simple and polite.

Interestingly (or not, depending on your definition of interesting), as I was putting the finishing touches on this write-up a friend commented on a video I had posted on Facebook. I described it as “awesome”, and he said “Must be pretty amazing for YOU to use the word ‘awesome'”.

I like that. It proves my point. I’m not known to over-react, so when I describe things as being better or worse than average it gets noticed. I’ve got a lot of headroom if anybody ever walks on the moon or saves my life.