Day: November 5, 2015

Superlative Fatigue

Superlative fatigue — a condition that emerges after writing too many letters of recommendation or award nomination within a short period. It stems from the inability of the human brain to use, in earnest, more than a limited number of superlatives per unit time without wanting to vomit and/or use more realistic adjectives. The condition is particularly severe in North America, specifically in the United States, where discussing someone’s mere excellence in academic pursuits is woefully inadequate, and all manner of Red-Sea parting, water-to-wine turning, and water-on-foot-traversing must be described instead. There is evidence that the residents of Lake Wobegon may be immune to superlative fatigue.

It has been shown that some letter writers in the STEM fields (usually, but not exclusively, men) can successfully stave off superlative fatigue by writing a letter for a female student or colleague. Similar to how the aroma of coffee beans resets one’s sense of smell after sampling perfumes, composing a letter on behalf of a woman can completely reset the letter writer’s superlative counter, so the next real letter, for a man, can again employ the full force of superhuman-worthy embellishments. This effect apparently arises from the total absence of necessity to ever use superlatives when describing the professional accomplishments of women, because everyone knows that it’s better to use the more appropriate womanly qualifiers, such as “warm,” “collegial,” “hard-working,”  or sometimes “difficult,” “insecure,” and “accidentally stumbled upon her main finding“.