In common use, the word "unbelievable" is
excessive to the max and therefore effective to the
min. As a worn-out synonym for "wonderful" or
"remarkable" or "exceptional," unbelievable has lost all
power to express its original meaning. Which
wouldn't be so bad, except that we really do need the
verbal tools for forcibly expressing -- um...
unbelievable adj. Not to be
...lack of assertive merit
without invoking a proven falsehood, an established
non-fact, a lie, or a myth.
Probably the most believable things are
what people habitually call unbelievable...
So then, how do we describe
- a ride in an amusement park,
- the ability of a child to acquire
- a solar eclipse at totality,
- the price of seats in the end
Try putting a modifier in front of
unbelievable (utterly, altogether, literally) and see what it gets
you. The English Language has been hoist on a
petard of mindless hyperbole.
I freely admit that I am often tempted to renounce my
renunciation of horseshit.
- abductions by extraterrestrials?
- claims for cold fusion?
- properties of polywater?
- uncorroborated accusations?
Twenty years after early
versions of unbelievable appeared on various
op-ed pages, the author began
observing a statistical decline in its usage in favor of
incredible. A simple search of the
worldwide web gets 453 million hits for the word incredible
versus 'only' 151 million for the word unbelievable.
incredible adj. Not to be believed;
"Credibility takes years to
build, seconds to break, forever to repair."
-- General Mark Dempsey by Twitter in 2019.
Both words seem to perform the same adjectival service,
celebrating positive, admiring
sentiments. That usage deprives them of their
original semantic function in expressing extreme doubt,
as lamented above.
101 Words I
Don't Use does
not want any credit for the three-to-one shift in
popularity away from unbelievable toward incredible.
no such impact was ever intended.
|Would any person who strives for
credibility want to be described as incredible?
Let us not make that mistake again. Here is a
selection of synonyms that writers and speakers should
consider using in place of both unbelievable and
astonishing, astounding, breathtaking, excellent,
exceptional, extraordinary, formidable, greatest,
legendary, magnificent, marvelous, mind-blowing, phenomenal,
prodigious, profound, singular,
remarkable, superb, unmatched, unrivaled,
For informal settings, one might chose
from the argot of youth...
awesome, boss, cool,
doozie, gnarly, rad (radical), stupendous, weird,
Finally, from a shrinking pool of strong
adjectives connoting disapproval and skepticism...
fantasmic, disgraceful, far-fetched, fictitious,
fishy, implausible, improbable, inconceivable,
iniquitous, outlandish, outrageous, phony,
preposterous, questionable, unimaginable,