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The Problem of Word Inflation in the World of Photography



It seems every news and blog site that I visit these days in inundating me with stunning photos. Sometimes the photos are labeled “Jaw-Dropping” or “Amazing” or “Incredible,” and to be honest, the pictures are usually great. But just as often they are just above-average pictures with exaggerated headlines.

What’s going on here? When did every picture become stunning? And if every picture is stunning, is any picture stunning really? I mean how stunned can I get?

If I’m initially stunned into a stupor looking at a Jeffrey Mcgillicuty’s picture of the sunset, do I get progressively more stunned as I view pictures of Aunty Ellie’s shot of her steak and egg breakfast in the Bahamas? Do I get even further stunned to the point that I cannot help but drop my jaw to the floor for the jaw-dropping shot of Hawaii that Yahoo! says I will not believe? How much more comatose into stundom can I get?

It’s called word inflation and it’s a little out of control

I was in Peru years ago and as I crossed the border they made me cash 60 dollars US into Peruvian dollars because there was rampant hyper-inflation and they wanted US Dollars in the country. I gave them $60 and they gave me 15 huge stacks of Peruvian dollars that measured at least a foot high. I felt like a millionaire. But by the time I left Peru two days later that same stack of bills was worth about half of what I changed it for.

Well, the same thing seems to have happened in describing photography. I did a Google Trend search on the word “stunning” and I found its use on the Internet nearly doubled in less than 10 years. Apparently a heck of a lot more things are stunning than ever before.

Not an excellent graph but it does show a doubling of the word “Stunning” as it appears on the Internet.


And the word jaw-dropping appears to be just as bad.


What can we do?

Well the first thing we need to do is find two new words that far surpass stunning and jaw-dropping in describing photography. Maybe we can use “brain-paralyzing” in place of stunning and “heart-stopping” in place of jaw-dropping to tell people about our awesome photographs. Since stunning has become so mundane we need to up the ante a bit.

Or we could simply refer to great photographs for what they are… great photographs. And good photographs for what they are… good photographs.

Now, I leave you with a brain paralyzing photo:


About the author: Frank McKenna is an amateur photographer based in La Jolla, California. You can find him on his blog, 500px, Tumblr, and Google+. This article originally appeared here.