Don’t be ridiculous
August 7, 2009
“The average test scores at my prep school were ridiculous.”
I heard an 18-year-old say something like this about five years ago. It was the first time I ever heard the word ‘ridiculous’ and was confused by it. I found myself thinking, “The scores were ridiculous? But I thought prep school kids were smarty-pants.”
It turns out that the scores actually were high, but I wasn’t familiar with the way she was using the word ‘ridiculous.’ Such was my introduction to its hipster usage.
Since hipsters love to make fun of things and point out absurdities, I hear ‘ridiculous’ everywhere in Portland and I even find myself saying it more than I used to. But I try to be mindful of its actual definition when I use it:
ri·dic·u·lous arousing or deserving ridicule : absurd, preposterous
At the risk of sounding old, I’ll say that I find a lot of teens and 20-somethings use ‘ridiculous’ to mean ‘over the top’ or ‘off the hook.’ Occasionally, I’ll hear people use the word in place of ‘absurd’ or ‘preposterous,’ which is great. But if you use the word to mean anything other that, you’re probably confusing anyone over the age of 30. Not to mention that you’re making yourself sound less intelligent than you’d probably like, especially if you’re misusing the word in your writing.
To test yourself on this, next time you’re about to say, “That’s ridiculous” try mentally replacing it with “That deserves ridicule.” You’ll know you’re using it correctly if the sentence matches what you actually think about the subject (e.g., that you’re making fun of it). I don’t recommend saying this out loud, though, unless you’re a fan of sounding ridiculous.