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If I Say I’m So Hungry I Could Eat a Horse, Will PETA Come After Me?

March 12, 2010

Hyperbole (n.) An obvious and intentional exaggeration, not meant to be taken seriously, as in I’ve been waiting an eternity.
• Dictionary.com

Gloria Gadsen, a college professor, was suspended recently for what were supposed to be humorous Facebook postings. I think that her comments were ill-advised given the current climate of fear and political correctness that seems to have gripped large segments of the population. Nonetheless, I also think that we need to get a grip. Here’s what she’s reported to have posted:

Had a good day today, didn’t want to kill even one student ☺ Now Friday was a different story AND Does anyone know where I can find a very discrete [sic, this should be discreet for you vocabulaters] hitman, [sic, this should be a semi-colon for you punctuation junkies] it’s been that kind of day.

Marilyn Wells, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at East Stroudsberg University, said, in justifying Gadsen’s suspension, that “given the climate of security concerns in academia, the university has an obligation to take all threats seriously and act accordingly” (“Facebook: Professor Suspended for Posts,” Carin Ford, March 2, 2010, Higher Ed Morning). Were these posts threats or simply hyperbolic venting? When should private thoughts be kept private?

I remember my stepfather telling the five of us siblings squabbling in the back seat of the car that if we didn’t shut up, he was going to pull over and kill someone. I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean it. I am irked and aggravated by my students from time to time, but I am honestly never all that angry with them. Fortunately. I am, however, prone to hyperbole: I waited in line for days. It took forever to get a response to my email. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. I was so tired after a long day of meetings I could sleep for a week. Writing that paper just about killed me.

Murder, death, and killing are currently hot button words even though we’ve been playing fast and loose with them for years:

You slay me!
You killed it!
That’s a killer app!
Knock ‘em dead!
Drop dead, why doncha?
You murdered it!
I’m dead tired.
I’d kill for a chocolate bar right now.
This job is killing me.
I’d kill to get that job.
You’re dead right.
That’s dead on.
The deal is dead.
Killjoy!
It’s a dead issue.
Did you meet the deadline?
We no longer have dead week at my university; it’s quiet week now.
And then there’s the difference a comma makes, taking “drop dead gorgeous” from a compliment to a threat: “Drop dead, gorgeous.”

I don’t know what to tell you. I know that I measure my public words carefully. It’s a sometimes humorless world out there and it’s wise to watch what you say, especially when it’s going to be floating in space forever.

Have you ever censored your public persona online or in class or elsewhere? How and why?

That coconut cream pie was a mile high! It was the best thing I’ve ever eaten and I could probably eat some more, but if I eat another piece, I’ll be big as a house!
• Overheard in a restaurant, 2006

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