Approbation Inflation

Approbation inflation: Awesome order you've got there, dude. Absolutely awesome! Mind if I peck at it for a bit?
Approbation inflation: Awesome order you’ve got there, dude. Absolutely awesome! Mind if I peck at it for a bit?

Is it my imagination or does our society suffer from approbation inflation? I’m not talking about the “Good job!” some parents reward their children with for putting a blue block on top of a red block. I have no children. Who am I to comment on that sort of parenting?

I’m referring to the approbations that adults occasionally shower on other adults in everyday circumstances.

Have you ever gone into a coffeeshop, placed a run-of-the-mill order—say a doppio espresso and a raisin bran muffin—and had the barista tell you that your order was “awesome!?” I have. A number of times.

Seriously? Awesome? What would she say if I told her I just found a total cure for all forms of cancer and brought about complete, everlasting world peace*? “Super-awesome?” If an espresso and muffin can be awesome then I don’t think even “super-awesome” is quite sufficient for a cure for cancer or world peace, let alone both.

Hold Some Approbation in Reserve

We need to reserve some of our superlatives for things that are a notch above a doppio espresso and a raisin bran muffin. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with an espresso and a muffin. I order them because I like them. So, for me, they are good. But if that qualifies as awesome then there’s not much point in pursuing higher ideals. Awesomeness is all I aspire to. (In truth, I usually happily settle for mediocracy. But, forget I admitted that.)

If that barista truly thought that my order was awesome, I want to date her. She’s obviously easily impressed. True, I’m almost certainly more than three times her age, but, considering her exhilaration over an espresso and muffin, she’d probably be wonderstruck by the incredibleness of my age.

Naming Approbation

Baristas often ask for customers’ names so they can mark them on the customers’ cups to distinguish them from other people’s cups. Sometimes, after I tell a barista my name, she responds, “perfect!” This, by the way, is usually after the same person finished pronouncing on the fabulousness of my order.


I like my name. “Joel” is easy to pronounce. It’s short enough that people won’t trip over saying it. It’s rare enough that I don’t have to constantly turn around when people call out to their friends, relatives and associates. Nevertheless, locally, it’s sufficiently commonplace that people rarely feel the need to ask me “where are you from?” when they hear my name. (I’ve never lived anywhere other than Toronto or, rather, what’s now Toronto after the amalgamation of a few municipalities a number of years ago. But that’s beside the point.)

All of that notwithstanding, I’m not sure any name achieves perfection. What does perfection even mean when it comes to names?

I know baristas are just trying to be pleasant. There’s nothing wrong that. I wouldn’t complain at all if it were an isolated case of approbation inflation, but it’s not.

Excellent Choice

Why is it that whenever a restaurant server feels the need to say anything about my menu choice, possibly because I foolishly asked about whether it’s good, the response is almost invariably something along the lines of, “Oh, yes. That’s an excellent choice. That’s my favourite.”

I swear that if I went down the entire menu line-by-line and said, “I’ll have the chicken … No, wait, I’ll have the salmon … Uh. On second thought, I’m sorry, I’ll have the steak … No, …” the server would tell me what a fabulous choice I made with every change of my order. And every selection would be the server’s favourite.

Come on. I know that the restaurant wouldn’t intentionally offer something horrible, but everything can’t be the best choice. It’s impossible. If you’re going to comment at all, please add some value.

Subjective Perfection

Besides, taste is subjective. If servers are being honest when they say something is a great choice, what they are really saying is that it is a great choice for them, not necessarily for me. Typically, I don’t meet the people who serve me in restaurants until I sit down at their tables. And I can’t recall it ever blossoming into a deep relationship. They can’t possibly be familiar with my tastes.

I love scallops, but I hate rice pudding. If I happen to get a server who hates scallops, but loves rice pudding I’d be ill-advised to depend on her or his review of my menu choices.

More Helpful Commentary

That aside, just once, I’d love to hear a server say, “Oh, sir, you really want to reconsider your choice. That tastes like shit! Why, just today I saw eleven people throw up after eating it, and I started my shift only an hour and a half ago. We had to rush them all to the hospital. Most of them are expected to pull through, but a couple of them aren’t out of the woods yet.

“If you really want it, I’d be happy to serve it to you, but I’m afraid it will take longer than most other menu options. I couldn’t, in good conscience, bring it to you without having an ambulance on standby at the restaurant’s front door.”

I know servers want to be pleasant, particularly when they depend on tips to earn a living wage, but I’d value honest advice very highly. True, I’d think less of the restaurant for putting and keeping that item on the menu. But providing that sort of information would lend much more credence to the server’s recommendation as to what I should order. In addition, I’d be a lot less cynical about frivolous approbation in general.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got to say about that. Have a truly ok day.

🤔 I wonder if that barista is free this evening.

* For the record, I have not found a total cure for any form of cancer, let alone all forms. Nor have I brought about world peace. I’ll be sure to let you know if I successfully complete either or both of those achievements. If so, I expect to hear an enthusiastic “atta boy!” from you.

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