Are we overdoing our use of ‘over’ or would that be oversimplfying?


‘We’re either overexcited or overanxious. We’re never tired, any more, we’re overtired. What exactly is going on?

The semantic Bank of England has just announced that the government’s rhetorical inflation target has been met. For a long time, it has been impermissible to call anyone a “model”: all are supermodels. Now, no one is sensitive without being “oversensitive”. If you are at all aroused, you are “overexcited”. To be worried about anything under the sun is to be “overanxious”. What exactly is going on?

Some such usages are mere boasting. If I’ve heard something twice, I will drawl jadedly that it is “overfamiliar”. But this same word, when applied to people, illustrates how an “over-” compound implies an appropriate level of some behaviour that has been regrettably exceeded. The American GI in Britain during the second world war was, famously, said to be “overpaid, oversexed, and over here”. These days he might be called overfamiliar. (You are being “overfamiliar” if you address me by my first name before we have got married.)’

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