Of course, some things are worth carrying on about. If you see a violent wreck on the freeway, it’s natural to react with great concern and distress. If, on the other hand, you break a nail, there’s likely no excuse whatsoever for getting terribly upset. The death of a pet hamster is likely disturbing, but you’d have a hard time convincing someone that it’s just as dolorous an event as the loss of a family member.
Nevertheless, we all know individuals who seem to go out of their way to make quite a presentation of the excitement and drama behind things that, frankly, aren’t that exciting or dramatic. You might call these people “drama queens”, or simply “melodramatic”. You also might tell them to quit with the histrionics (HISS’tree’on’icks) already.
Although histrionics technically refers to any dramatic representation—such as acting—the word in common usage refers to the unnecessarily melodramatic affectations of those who want to be noticed or given more sympathy or attention than they or their particular difficulty warrants. Everyone understands, for example, that it’s an inconvenience to get a flat tire, but if you start regaling others with stories of how your flat tire made you miss your plane which made you miss your marriage which made your fiancé leap from a cliff which made your life wretched, folks are going to be incredulous—and rightly so.
Naturally, histrionics can go both ways. Perhaps you’ve known someone who mastered something not altogether astounding but presented it as though they’d achieved the impossible. This sort of obnoxious bragging usually involves protracted descriptions of the myriad complications encountered and overcome in reaching one’s lofty goal, which turns out to be something as fundamental as preparing a TV dinner. Generally, this sort of banter is the result of someone trying to sound more important or accomplished than they actually are. You’ve doubtless met the type.
Histrionics are at hand any time you get the feeling that whatever someone is telling you, they’re doing a mighty fine job of decorating the basic story line with a whole lot of melodramatic fluff, typically accompanied by wild gesticulations and the occasional expletive.
As with so many other things, introducing histrionics into the relating of a series of events is not so much something that some persons do and others not as it is something that we all do, in varying degrees, at varying times. When someone else is giving us a load of histrionics, we feel it’s annoying and sometimes kind of pathetic. When we’re doing it, of course, it’s because we’ve convinced ourselves—and are now hoping to convince others—of just how absurdly difficult or heroic our day has been.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Mark Jacobs. Mark is Jet Fuel Review’s prose editor. He is an Aviation major, but the left side of his brain is an avid writer. Mark is a junior and works a few hours a week as a tutor in the Writing Center.