MAUGHAN: Sorry, if it’s not a meme, I’ve not heard of it.
* * *
DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.
DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: Where is the line between a little exaggeration and outright lying?
DUCKWORTH: I have to confess to you that I am guilty of using “literally” figuratively.
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MAUGHAN: Okay, Angela, today we have a question from — wait for it — Marty from Melbourne.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, I thought it might be Marty Seligman.
MAUGHAN: I know, but no.
DUCKWORTH: But it is Marty from Melbourne.
MAUGHAN: It’s Marty from Melbourne, and let me first say that Melbourne is one of my favorite places in the entire world. My parents lived there for a time after they retired, and I fell in love with Melbourne the moment I walked into that city.
DUCKWORTH: By the way, is this how you say it? You don’t say “Mel-born.”
MAUGHAN: Well, you do if you’re from Texas or something.
DUCKWORTH: Or from New Jersey.
MAUGHAN: Okay, but let’s get to Marty from Melbourne’s question. So, he said, “I was wondering what causes us to exaggerate and why it’s so hard to stop doing so. We’ve become so good at exaggerating that we’ve taken the one word that was meant to mean the opposite — the word ‘literally’ — and given it the absolute reverse meaning at the same time. One word, two opposite definitions.” So, he says, “Look, I don’t feel the need to embellish any part of my life, but I still can’t stop myself saying things like, ‘Traffic was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced,’ or ‘I literally ate everything in the fridge today.’ Are our lives that boring that we need to amp up every little detail into the greatest or worst thing in history? Much love, Marty.”
DUCKWORTH: How much do you love Marty? He signed this email, “much love.” He just seems like a pretty zesty guy.
MAUGHAN: I feel like he is a great representation of Melbourne. Great people, great food, great city, I’m sold.
DUCKWORTH: I think we can only speak in extreme statements for this entire discussion. Okay, it’s a great question. And “literally” has literally been on my mind lately, because I have two daughters, as you know, Amanda and Lucy. And their use of “literally” — like, Amanda said the other day, “I literally jumped out of my skin and jumped back into it again.”
MAUGHAN: Which would be very painful if she was using that word literally.
DUCKWORTH: And really hard. Like, how do you do that? How do you jump out of your skin — and, and definitely, how do you jump back into it again? Like, how does that work? And so, even after scolding both of them for the tragic misuse of the term, I, myself, found occasions in my conversation where I would say nearly as damning things. And then, I actually asked a linguist at my university, at University of Pennsylvania. He’s one of the world’s greatest living linguists, and his name is Mark Liberman. And I said, “Mark, I have to confess to you that I am guilty of using ‘literally’ figuratively. What’s going on? Am I just becoming part of sensationalism, kind of like the way the news is going, etc.?” And he said to me something that was quite comforting, actually. He said, “You think of that word, and you have these two younger daughters, and they’re using this word in a way that hurts your ears.” And I say, “Absolutely.” And he says, “Well, what word would you prefer they use?” And I say, “I don’t know, like, ‘actually,’ or ‘very,’ or ‘truly,'” right? “I’m truly hungry.”
MAUGHAN: Yeah, but, “I actually jumped out of my skin and actually jumped back into it”?
DUCKWORTH: Okay, maybe not with that phrase. But here’s something he pointed out. I said, “You know, they could use words like ‘very.’ And he said, “Where do you think ‘very’ comes from?” And I was like, “Uh, I’m trying to remember my Latin, like, ‘veritas.’ Oh, right. ‘Veritas’ means truth.” He said they’re called intensifiers — ‘actually,’ ‘literally,’ ‘truly’ had a literal meaning that has changed.” Like, I’m okay with “very.” “Very” sounds like a better intensifier than “literally.” But it’s no better. I mean, it means the same thing as “literally.” Right? It means “true.”
MAUGHAN: Have you ever read The Giver?
DUCKWORTH: Yes! By Lois Lowry? I just read it last year.
MAUGHAN: Okay, it’s probably the book I’ve read more than any other book. I am obsessed with —.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, you’ve read it more than once?
MAUGHAN: Oh yes. I probably read it once a year. I love this book. So, what they’ve done in The Giver is they basically tried to take all decision, all beauty, all everything out of life, so everything’s just equal.
DUCKWORTH: It’s like a dystopian utopia, right? It’s a society where everyone’s equal and there’s no harm, but then actually you realize it’s dystopian.
MAUGHAN: And there’s literally no color. Not just no race, but no color. There’s no blue, red, yellow, orange, nothing.
DUCKWORTH: And literally no color. Not figuratively no color, like, literally no color.
MAUGHAN: But in there, the protagonist, Jonah, gets criticized for saying one time, “I’m starving.” And they said, “Precision of language, Jonah,” because no one in their environment is starving anymore. No one knows what “starving” means, because they’ve excised that idea, that concept, from their society. So, even when you’re talking about your daughters using these intensifiers, it’s not just “literally.” Like, “starving” is also one of those, because I’m guessing that we, you know, in our environment have never had the burden of starving.
DUCKWORTH: Right. We don’t even know what it’s like to be starving. Certainly my daughters don’t know what it’s like to be starving when they say that they’re “literally” starving.
MAUGHAN: It’s interesting. There’s this linguist, John McWhorter, he wrote a book, Words on the Move: Why English Won’t and Can’t Sit Still. And he talked about the very fact that words just change, and dictionaries sort of set in our minds that language is going to be precise forever. And this is just what this word means, or this is how we say it. But it’s a constantly evolving thing, and that’s why Latin became French. That’s why Old English became Modern English. That’s why there are things like Urban Dictionary, which I don’t use much, but tell us what does that word mean in a way that you probably don’t understand it or I don’t understand it, but that the younger generation — that’s how they’re using words, and they just change.
DUCKWORTH: You know, you should look up “literally” in the Urban Dictionary and see what it says. And I think that’s pretty related, at least, to what Mark Liberman, the linguist I was just mentioning, said. You know, I was complaining about my daughters, and then I was complaining they were, like, contaminating me with their imprecise use of the term “literally.” And he said that in language — and I think McWhorter and Lieberman agree, like language is a living thing. It’s a growing thing, it’s never the same from one day to the next. Maybe the changes are imperceptible, but it’s moving. And he says that the way that young people use language is going to be the correct way if you just wait long enough.
MAUGHAN: So, I’m not going read you verbatim the Urban Dictionary on “literally,” because I don’t say most of these words, and they found a way to put these words in here a lot.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, what? Okay, I’m looking it up. Hold on.
MAUGHAN: Here’s an edited version: “Who knows anymore? First it meant factual, now it means fictional. What the heck, Internet? What the heck?”
DUCKWORTH: Oh, I love this entry. So much cursing.
MAUGHAN: They fit a lot of bad words in one little sentence.
DUCKWORTH: Wow, that was, yeah. It’s posted by Deathmatch1127. That’s a great handle.
MAUGHAN: Well, it’s a handle. Um, I don’t want to take them on. Anyway, but its point is: who knows anymore? Here’s another thought on exaggeration, and this is one that I’ve thought a lot about, because I had a friend who for years — there were three of us who kind of hung out a lot, and I had a friend in that group who told us that his family, they only owned one car. So, every time we were going to the airport for work or going to this event or something, my other buddy and I would pick this guy up and we would give him rides for probably two years. And then, one day, we walk outside, and we see his wife in the truck that they said they no longer owned. And we, we were like, “What is going on?”
DUCKWORTH: What’s up with that?
MAUGHAN: “You’ve told us for years you have one car as a family, so we’ve been giving you rides forever.” And he looked at us and said, “Well, emotionally, we have one car. We want to be a one-car family.”
DUCKWORTH: Spiritually, metaphorically, figuratively. But literally, they’re a two-car family.
MAUGHAN: And I don’t know what it means to “emotionally” have one car, but —,
DUCKWORTH: Neither do I.
MAUGHAN: Here’s what’s interesting. Are you familiar with the comedian Hasan Minhaj?
DUCKWORTH: Oh, yeah. I have watched Patriot Act. Isn’t it Hasan “Min-AJJ”?
MAUGHAN: You know, he used to go by the more American pronunciation of Hasan “Min-AJJ,” but recently reverted back to the correct pronunciation, so he prefers Hasan Minhaj now.
DUCKWORTH: The show is called — is it called American Patriot Act or something like that?
MAUGHAN: I think just — it’s a Netflix series called Patriot Act. And it’s a comedy news show in the mold of sort of like The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight.
DUCKWORTH: And it’s like real news, because I watched this thing on fast fashion that made me stop buying clothing for, like, a year.
MAUGHAN: But what’s been interesting is that a lot of the anecdotes that he shared in his Netflix special we now have found out are not true.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, what?
MAUGHAN: Yeah, he just made them up.
DUCKWORTH: Wait. Seriously?
MAUGHAN: Yes, so this is what he claims though. He calls it his “Arnold Palmer of comedy.” Now, an Arnold Palmer is when you mix iced tea and lemonade.
DUCKWORTH: Iced tea and lemonade. I just wanted to complete your sentence because I wanted to get credit for knowing what an Arnold Palmer is.
MAUGHAN: Perfect. Which I’ve never had.
DUCKWORTH: Sounds terrible and I think I’ve maybe tried something — who would mix lemonade and iced tea? It’s, like, “literally” terrible.
MAUGHAN: I was going to say, literally Arnold Palmer did it, which is why it’s named after him. But he said, “My comedy Arnold Palmer is 70 percent emotional truth and 30 percent hyperbole, exaggeration, and fiction.” I’m reading from a New Yorker article written by a journalist, Claire Malone: “Hasan Minhaj’s ‘Emotional Truths’.” And she talks about how he tells this story about one time getting a letter which was sent to his home filled with white powder, the contents accidentally spill on his young daughter, the daughter is rushed to the hospital, it turns out not to be anthrax, but it’s this really emotional, sobering moment about the consequences of the kind of things he’s willing to take on, the things he’s willing to say. And then, he tells how his wife says, “Hey I’m pregnant with our second child. Say whatever the heck you want on stage, but we have to live with the consequences, and I don’t care that Time Magazine thinks you’re an influencer. If you ever put my kids in danger again, I’ll leave you in a second.” Compelling story. Powerful story. It gets the point across that there are real world consequences to even using humor to take on quote, “the man.” The challenge is that none of that happened.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, he made it up?
MAUGHAN: Correct. He admitted later that his daughter had never been exposed to a white powder, she’d never been hospitalized. But he insisted to this journalist, “Though the story was made up, it was based on, quote, ‘emotional truth.’” And he said, “The punchline is worth the fictionalized premise.” And I say: no.
DUCKWORTH: You’re going to hold the line. You’re like, “The buck stops here. No more falsitudes.”
MAUGHAN: Here’s why: I never trusted that friend again who said that they “emotionally” had one car. Like, shut up. And when Hasan Minhaj is telling these stories — here’s the issue. There are enough stories like that that are true, that what I think you do is you inadvertently damage everybody by —.
DUCKWORTH: The boy who cried wolf. Yes?
MAUGHAN: Yes, yes, yes!
DUCKWORTH: Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!
MAUGHAN: And then, no one comes to their aid when there’s an actual wolf. And so, I do think there’s a problem with exaggeration, and I certainly don’t buy into this idea of, quote, “emotional truth.” What’s interesting though, and I’ll give credit to this idea — what often happens is when people exaggerate, they’re doing so because they want to make a point, and they want to help us understand the significance of the event as they see it. And to your point, you stopped buying these clothes, and that was probably the right thing to do. And that’s where I think there’s value, right? I think there’s value to telling stories really well, but I think we do ourselves and society a disservice when we completely fabricate in order to get people to take actions that we want to. The ends do not justify the means.
DUCKWORTH: But I think there’s a difference between fabrication and exaggeration, right?
MAUGHAN: I would agree with you 100 percent. And that’s where there is some generosity we give toward exaggeration versus outright lies. And I think Angela and I would both love to hear your stories about exaggeration. Why do you think we do it, and where’s the line between adding a little color to a story and telling an outright lie? So record a voice memo in a quiet place with your voice close to the phone, and email it to us at NSQ@Freakonomics.com, and maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. Also, if you like the show and want to support it, the best thing you can do is tell a friend about it. Feel free to exaggerate or add any intensifiers you want.
DUCKWORTH: It’s “literally” the best podcast, “literally,” ever. “Literally” the highlight of my days, listening to No Stupid Questions.
MAUGHAN: Highlight of your day? Highlight of your life, Ms. Duckworth. Anyway, you can spread the word on social media, leave a review on your podcast app. Tell people how much you absolutely love it and “literally” couldn’t live without it.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Are people who exaggerate more fun?
DUCKWORTH: Let’s go on a road trip. It’s going to be the most amazing experience of your life!
* * *
Now, back to Mike and Angela’s conversation about exaggeration.
MAUGHAN: Just think about a resume for a moment, right? There’s this, you know, meme that goes around: how would you write, “I changed a light bulb” on your resume?
DUCKWORTH: Oh, I haven’t seen this meme. I don’t think I’ve seen any of these memes. Where do they go around, by the way?
MAUGHAN: I have two coworkers, Ben and Jess, and we have this amazing text thread where — we’re all very stressed, we all lead parts of this org, and our, like, guilty pleasure is sending each other stupid videos or memes.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, so it must be social media then, right? Oh, okay, okay, okay. I didn’t even know that. Okay, go on.
MAUGHAN: “How would you write ‘I changed a light bulb’ on your resume?” And I don’t know who authored this, but they write it this way: “Single-handedly managed the successful upgrade and deployment of new environmental illumination system with zero cost overruns and no safety incidents.”
DUCKWORTH: That’s so good. I would hire that person anyway, because, wow, they can really spin it! Maybe they could be in marketing or PR.
MAUGHAN: Right. So is it marketing? Is it PR? Is it making up for the fact that we have boring lives like Marty is asking?
DUCKWORTH: Oh, that’s so interesting.
MAUGHAN: Well, here’s what’s interesting. So, a woman named Holly Cole, she’s a Wesleyan College psychologist, she wrote an article, “Lying to Spice Up Life.” She talks about the “Goldilocks zone.” That there’s this really fine line between exaggeration and outright lying. And she, interestingly, talks about how, when people exaggerate some details, actually listeners are not annoyed by that, because often it’s a way of, like, understanding the story better and understanding the significance of the event as the storyteller sees it.
DUCKWORTH: Okay, wait, I don’t love the idea that there is a Goldilocks zone — like, some fine line balance between exaggeration and lying. I just — it makes it feel like it’s okay, and you just have to get it right. So, I don’t like that. But, I do think there’s a reason why the language that we speak and any language — all languages have intensifiers that serve the function to kind of turn up the volume on the next word. It’s, like, functionally, as you’re speaking, boldfacing, you know, the next word, because sometimes we do want to wave our hands around, as it were, and bring someone’s attention to something that we’re saying and to bring home — I don’t want to say the “emotional truth,” given how traumatizing that sounds to you — but, you know, like, we’re trying to make a point. And I think when my daughter says, “I literally jumped out of my skin and then jumped back into it again,” she is just trying to make a point. Or someone says, “I’m literally starving” —.
MAUGHAN: “Precision of language, Jonah.”
DUCKWORTH: Yes! Right. But you’re just trying to say that you’re really, really, really, really, really, really, really hungry. And so, I just want to justify that thing that we’re trying to do without justifying exaggerating responsibilities on a resume or making up stuff, but I sometimes want to talk to you and I want to, I want it to be 18-point font, bold faced, italics, underlined, highlighted. And that’s what “literally” is trying to do.
MAUGHAN: Absolutely. And I actually love that point. And going back to Marty from Melbourne — I’m just calling you “Marty from Melbourne” from now on. He says, this is what I thought was so interesting: “I don’t feel the need to embellish any part of my life, but I still can’t stop myself.” And he gives examples. And then, the end of his question: “Are our lives that boring that we need to amp up every little detail?” I was in California recently with a group of friends. We’re playing this game on the beach where you throw these blocks to knock over other blocks. It sounds very dumb. It kind of is, I guess. So, my friend Chase throws a block and I, lacking maybe dexterity and ability, don’t jump out of the way, because he threw it too far, and it hits my toe. There’s a lot of blood. I have to go to urgent care.
DUCKWORTH: He threw a block and it hit your toe and you started bleeding?
MAUGHAN: Yes, I mean, these are heavy blocks, and he threw it from far away. It was a direct hit and he nailed it. My fault, not his. But I’m at an event the other night, and I’m talking to a friend of mine, and he’s like, “Oh, why are you limping a little?” And I said, “Ugh, my friend threw this block and it shattered my toe.” And Crew looks at me and goes, “Oh, really? It ‘shattered’ your toe?”
DUCKWORTH: Imprecision of language, Mike.
MAUGHAN: Yes! But here’s my thing. I, to your point, wanted to emphasize something. So, was I outright lying? No, it all happened.
DUCKWORTH: You were just boldface, underlying, highlighting.
MAUGHAN: Right, 18-point font. But I guess to Marty’s question, why did I feel the need to make it seem such a big deal? And I think it was because I don’t want to be seen as limping around on just like a, a little scratch on the toe, right? You want to be exhibiting like, “Oh, no, I’m really tough, but my toe is shattered. So, if your toe were shattered, you’d be walking like this too.”
DUCKWORTH: Right. So, there was a little bit of ego in there, but you know, in your defense, you were just trying to bring home, dare I say, the “emotional truth.” No, not that. Not that. I mean, look, we emphasize things, right? And maybe you did want to emphasize that, look, we’re not talking about a paper cut, there was a lot of blood. I mean, you were just trying to draw attention — I think that exaggeration is all about attention. I mean, that’s, I think, the most defensible thing you can say about exaggeration. Look, I have a father-in-law, he’s now passed, but my father-in-law, Joe Duckworth, he was fond of hyperbole, let’s just say. Very often, he would say, “Oh, that restaurant” — and this, I think, is a direct quote: “That restaurant has the best roast chicken in the world.” You know, “I just came back from vacation. That was the most beautiful place in the world.” Everything was the most “fill-in-the-blank” in the world. And I don’t know, it kind of bothered me for a while. It felt like imprecise language, and it felt like unnecessary embellishment. Then, as I grew fonder and closer, I came to really understand that my father-in-law really did have this incredible zest for life. And I think when he was having that roast chicken, like, to him, it was kind of the best chicken in the world — like, I don’t know, so in defense of exaggeration, I feel like there is often a rhetorical need to draw attention to things, but also even for ourselves, we kind of want to draw our attention to how amazing something is. Like, “Oh my gosh, this is, like, the best latte I’ve ever had.” And that’s imprecise language because it’s statistically unlikely to be the best latte you’ve ever had —.
MAUGHAN: And this is why people want to hang out with Joe Duckworth and not us. Because we’re sitting there like, “Well, statistically, it’s unlikely to be the best latte” — and they’re like, “You are not fun to hang around with. Please leave and let me enjoy this.”
DUCKWORTH: Mike, you’re literally right, because at Joe’s memorial service, I mean, I was stunned at the number of friends who came. And I remember sitting there at this memorial service and thinking to myself, like, who doesn’t want to be with that friend who’s like, “Let’s go on a road trip. It’s going to be the most amazing experience of your life. Look at that sign. That sign is, like, the coolest sign I’ve ever seen!” And I do think, you know, it wasn’t the only thing that made him an amazing friend, but, like, heck yeah! He embellished a lot in good faith, and I think that was one of the best things about him.
MAUGHAN: Well, there’s something about being excited and getting other people excited. I know this is not the topic du jour, but emotions are contagious. One thing that I have learned in life — I am not a car guy, and when I bought this one car, my neighbor Craig came over to my house, and he gets in the passenger seat, and he is like, “Mike, this is amazing.” And then, we drive around. He’s like, “This is so fun. Can you believe you have this car? This is so fun. This is incredible.” And then, I started getting excited about my car. But more than that, I look back at that moment and I think I needed, and I need to, be more excited for other people and for the things that they’re doing and show more enthusiasm.
DUCKWORTH: You need more intensifiers. You want to be an intensifier.
MAUGHAN He was an intensifier, and he used intensifiers, but I think as people we can be intensifiers and really make people feel good about what they did or what they’re doing when we extend praise — when we do all those things. It’s not fake. Is it exaggerated a little? Maybe, but again, like you’re saying with Joe, in the moment, maybe that was the best latte he remembers having. And so, let’s celebrate that with him.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah! I don’t know, when Marty says, like, “Are our lives that boring that we need to amp every little detail into the greatest or worst event in history?” I mean, it certainly makes life less boring when you focus your attention in a way that, for the moment, exaggerates. I mean, here’s — I think you’ll like this — here’s a legitimate way to intensify other people’s reactions to things and even our own. And I bring this up because I’ve actually been studying it lately with Danny Kahneman, who you know I spend as much time as he will allow me to spend with him.
MAUGHAN: As any smart person would.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, because I don’t know if intelligence is contagious — yes, emotions are — but if there’s any way that Danny’s massive intelligence could rub off on me, then for sure, I’m going to just sidle up to him. And we’ve been studying the focusing illusion, which is something that he studied much earlier in his career. And first I should just ask, have you ever heard of the focusing illusion? Have you ever heard of this expression? It’s kind of — I don’t know if it’s a meme, but a lot of people have heard it.
MAUGHAN: Sorry, if it’s not a meme, I’ve not heard of it.
DUCKWORTH: Yes, if it’s not in my text thread.
MAUGHAN: No, I don’t think I’ve heard of this, though.
DUCKWORTH: All right, well, the focusing illusion can be explained in this one-liner, as Danny would say: “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you’re thinking about it.” So, if you’re thinking about that roast chicken in front of you, nothing in life is as important as this roast chicken. But then, someone reminds you that you’re overdue on your taxes, and then all of a sudden nothing in life is as important as, like, getting your taxes in. But then, you know, later on, somebody throws a block and it lands on your toe and it’s bleeding, and then suddenly nothing in life is as important as my bleeding toe. And so, what we’ve been talking about lately is how the focusing illusion can lead you to exaggerate. We’ve been talking about grit, honestly, and how when I draw attention to “gritty people are more successful,” I am now focusing your attention on grit. And I’m not lying, because I have plenty of research studies to show that gritty people are more successful. I mean, it’s just a statement. But what I’m doing is: I’m focusing your attention on one thing, and for the moment, because your attention is on grit, you’re forgetting socioeconomic status, you’re forgetting social skills, you’re forgetting connections, you’re forgetting what country you live in, you’re forgetting the state of the economy, you’re forgetting luck. So, all I have to do, if I want to get you to — in a way — exaggerate how awesome something is, I don’t have to lie. I don’t even have to exaggerate. All I have to do is draw your attention to that thing, and in the moment, you’re going to exaggerate it all by yourself.
MAUGHAN: Right, because we’re bad at maintaining the rest of the context. You know this, and I don’t know if I can describe it well, but there is this video of people passing basketballs back and forth. So, in these videos — and this was in my Intro to Psych class — they say, “Count how many times they pass the ball between these three or five people,” whatever. And they’re passing the ball back and forth, and I am just focused with everything I have on how many passes there are. And then, a person dressed in a gorilla suit comes into the middle of the people.
DUCKWORTH: While it’s playing, right? While you’re counting passes.
MAUGHAN: While you’re counting passes, drums on their chest, and then walks out. And afterward, the professor says, “How many balls were passed?” You know, and it’s like 27. Someone’s like, “No, I think it was 29,” and da da da. And I, I’m pretty confident it’s whatever number I saw. And then, he says, “How many of you saw the gorilla walk through the middle, pound its chest, and walk away?” And I thought, “No, that didn’t happen.” He’s like, “Watch it again.” And it was crazy. I mean, I was watching this video very closely, and it’s so obvious that a gorilla walks through the middle. Point is, if you want us to exaggerate, you focus on one thing, we miss so many others. Here’s what I want to say. Let’s go back to food, because I think that’s a great way to close all things.
DUCKWORTH: Literally the best way to end anything, is to end with food.
MAUGHAN: Amen. And so, to your point of intensifiers, and drawing attention, and just making things stand out, I’ll just read you this — this is from a restaurant website called “Restaurant Menu Descriptions,” and it’s helping you build your restaurant. And it gives you examples of how you could describe —.
DUCKWORTH: This is for restauranteurs?
MAUGHAN: Yes, to help them understand, like, how to make their stuff sound appealing. So, it says, “Don’t do,” and it’s describing mushroom soup. And so it says, “Mushroom soup: mushrooms, sour cream, scallions.” And then it tells you what you should do. You call it “wild mushroom cream soup.” And then, the description is, “a variety of hand-picked mushrooms cooked to perfection, mixed in with velvety cream and served with freshly chopped scallions.”
DUCKWORTH: That sounds delicious. Order me one.
MAUGHAN: So, it’s not dishonest. It’s just — you’re emphasizing the points you want people to take away. And I love this idea of being like Joe Duckworth and emphasizing with great joy and incredible gusto.
DUCKWORTH: With zest and enthusiasm.
MAUGHAN: Yeah! And no, no, Marty from Melbourne, I do not think that means our lives are boring. I think that means our lives have joy, and passion, and enthusiasm for things that we love.
DUCKWORTH: And Marty from Melbourne, it’s an indication of the desire that all humans have to live their best lives, because, you know, who wants to live in a life where everything is monotone and monochrome?
MAUGHAN: I literally don’t.
This episode was produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation: In the first half of the show, Mike discusses Lois Lowry’s Newbery award-winning novel The Giver. He refers to the protagonist as “Jonah,” but the character’s name is Jonas. “Precision of language,” Mike.
Later, Mike and Angela discuss the controversy around Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix standup special “The King’s Jester.” Mike says that Minhaj made up the story of his daughter being exposed to anthrax. However, after we recorded this episode, Minhaj released a video saying the stories he’d been accused of fabricating are based on moments of truth that the New Yorker article ignored. He emphasizes that he was sent an envelope of white powder and his daughter was in the room when he opened it. But, he says, she was never exposed to the substance, and she did not have to be taken to the hospital. Mike and Angela also discuss Minhaj’s Netflix series, “Patriot Act” — which Angela says inspired her to stop purchasing clothing for a year. We should note that the New Yorker article did not directly accuse Minhaj of fabricating material in the series — only in his standup special.
Then, Mike says he doesn’t know who authored the cleverly-written spin on how to make changing a lightbulb sound great on a resume. The person behind the quote is Ruli Manurung, a computer scientist and staff linguist at Google Japan. Finally, Angela lambastes the Arnold Palmer — a beverage that combines iced-tea and lemonade made popular by the professional golfer of the same name. She says, quote, “It’s, like, literally terrible.” This is incorrect. Arnold Palmers are, in fact, delicious. That’s it for the fact-check.
Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some thoughts about last week’s episode on loneliness.
Dani JANZEN: In response to your podcast about loneliness, I wanted to add in the idea of what I’m calling “situational loneliness,” wherein you feel lonely because of a life circumstance. My husband and I experienced four miscarriages back to back over three years. I felt like no one understood how I felt, because while we did have supportive friends and family, no one else was going through, or had gone through, the same thing. It wasn’t until I reached out to online support groups and shared my story on social media that I felt connected to others experiencing the same thing. You’ll be happy to know that I’m a stay-at-home mom to a beautiful 10-month-old daughter who keeps me so busy, I don’t have time for loneliness.
Kim RICHARDS: Hello from Australia. I am sending this in in response to the loneliness episode. There is, in Australia, and worldwide a thing called Parkrun. It happens 8:00 a.m. every Saturday in all different locations — and there will be one near you. You just have to look it up. It is a volunteer-run event where people get together, you don’t have to run, you can walk, do it at your own pace. It’s great exercise. It’s good community. And a lot of our general practitioners prescribe it for people with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and even those that have recently had heart surgery.
That was Dani Janzen and Kim Richards. Thanks to them and to everyone who shared their stories with us. And remember, we’d love to hear about your experiences with exaggeration. Send a voice memo to NSQ@Freakonomics.com, and you might hear your voice on the show!
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Are long-term romantic relationships all they’re built up to be?
MAUGHAN: Grow up, try to find your soulmate, and your life will go to hell.
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. We had research assistance from Daniel Moritz-Rabson. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
DUCKWORTH: You know what my kids would say? “Mom, that’s, it’s not that deep.” That’s like, mic drop. And then, there’s nothing you can say because everything you say sounds really dorky and stupid.
- Holly Cole, assistant professor of psychology at Wesleyan College.
- Daniel Kahneman, professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University.
- Mark Liberman, professor of linguistics and computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Lois Lowry, author.
- John McWhorter, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia Unviersity.
- Hasan Minhaj, comedian.
- “My Response to The New Yorker Article,” by Hasan Minhaj (YouTube video, 2023).
- “Hasan Minhaj’s ‘Emotional Truths,'” by Clare Malone (The New Yorker, 2023).
- “Lying to Spice up Life,” by Holly Cole (Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 2019).
- Words on the Move: Why English Won’t – and Can’t – Sit Still (Like, Literally), by John McWhorter (2016).
- “Literally,” entry by Deathmatch1127 (Urban Dictionary, 2015).
- “Does Living in California Make People Happy? A Focusing Illusion in Judgments of Life Satisfaction,” by David A. Schkade and Daniel Kahneman (Psychological Science, 1998).
- The Giver, by Lois Lowry (1993).