unbelievable
from 101 Words I Don't Use
by Paul Niquette
Copyright 1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.
New entry: incredible in 2015.

 

unbelievable adj. Not to be believed; incredible.

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...
...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...
  • a ride in an amusement park,
  • the ability of a child to acquire language,
  • a solar eclipse at totality,
  • the price of seats in the end zone.
So then, how do we describe
  • abductions by extraterrestrials?
  • claims for cold fusion?
  • properties of polywater?
  • uncorroborated accusations?
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.


incredible adj. Not to be believed; unbelievable.
ThinkerTwenty 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' 150 million for the word unbelievable

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.

Would any person who strives for credibility want to be described as incredible?

101 Words I Don't Use does not want any credit for the three-to-one shift in popularity away from unbelievable toward incredible.  Indeed, no such impact was ever intended. 

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 incredible...
amazing, astonishing, astounding, breathtaking, excellent, exceptional, extraordinary, formidable, greatest, legendary, magnificent, marvelous, mind-blowing, phenomenal, prodigious, profound, singular, remarkable, superb, unmatched, unrivaled, wonderful
For informal settings, one might chose from the argot of youth...
awesome, boss, cool, doozie, gnarly, rad (radical), stupendous, weird, wicked
Finally, from a shrinking pool of strong adjectives connoting disapproval and skepticism...
absurd, fantasmic, disgraceful, far-fetched, fictitious, fishy, implausible, improbable, inconceivable, iniquitous, outlandish, outrageous, phony, preposterous, questionable, unimaginable, unthinkable, untrustable.


 
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