‘Enhance’ is a transitive verb that means ‘heighten’ or ‘intensify’ (something such as a quality, power or value) or ‘improve’ (something already of good quality). Roget’s Thesaurus includes seven synonyms for ‘enhance’: ‘augment’, ‘manifest’, ‘emphasise’, ‘exaggerate’, ‘make better’, ‘aggravate’ and ‘decorate’.

In the glossary to Don Watson’s Dictionary of Weasel Words, the entry for ‘enhanced, enhancing, enhancement’ is ‘To improve, increase, grow, streamline, beautify, strengthen, lengthen, tighten, loosen where necessary or desirable; make go faster; implement an efficiency-gain; brighten; whiten, lighten; make hairier, scarier, lairier, etc. Make more violent or serene. There is nothing that cannot be enhanced. Enhance your penis, your garden, your prospects, your retirement, breasts, lifestyle, chances, medical cover, relationships, froth (with a “froth enhancer” . . .).’

Examples of usage

Let’s study a few example sentences that include a form of ‘enhance’, beginning with the Bible passage Romans 3:68: ‘If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?’

On Mornings with Kerry-Anne on Melbourne Cup Day 2007, Dr Penny Adams affirmed, ‘The bubbles in the champagne enhance the absorption of the alcohol.’ Rather than ‘enhance’, would ‘intensify’ or ‘accelerate’ have been the more accurate word?

A workplace-relations minister might be proud of his last-minute enhancement of the Work Choices legislation, but was his action actually an ‘improvement’ of it or a ‘quick fix’ for it?

The features of a clock-radio can include enhanced digital display, but should the verb-adjective instead be ‘brightened’, ‘intensified’ or ‘highlighted’?

A woman could report that she’s had her breasts enhanced, but has she had them ‘augmented’, ‘enlarged’ or ‘made more attractive’ – or all three?

In Weasel Words again, Don Watson cites three beauties:

‘The Facilities Enhancement Project aims to maintain and further develop the facilities and services of the Puffing Billy railway . . .’ Should the writer have chosen ‘Advancement’ rather than ‘Enhancement’?

‘The University of Wollongong will enhance its position as a research institution with an international reputation . . .’ Should the writer have chosen ‘maintain’ or ‘advance’ rather than ‘enhance’?

‘AusAid explored design and implement [sic] models for project design to enhance recipient government involvement . . .’ Should the writer have chosen ‘promote’ or ‘increase’ rather than ‘enhance’?

It only gets worse. Don goes on to cite a childcare-centre document in which he found ‘. . . enhanced behavioural analysis techniques and reporting structures’.

The best example of all, however, is from one Nat Hentoff, in the 2 July 2004 issue of the Village Voice: ‘The enhanced interrogation techniques, as the CIA calls them, include feigned drowning.’ Don defined these types of enhancement as ‘Improved, expanded, sexed-up interrogation techniques. Torture lite. Sensory deprivation. Humiliation. Infliction of pain and fear. Torture.’ Nearby, he can’t resist including, ‘Go ahead: enhance my day.’

In the glossary to Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language, Don invites us to rewrite this sentence without ‘enhancement’: ‘Dying in the desert was a tragedy for Burke and Wills but an enhancement in terms of their status as icons.’ For an example of ‘enhanced’ in his glossary definition, he gives us ‘Our marriage was enhanced when Bruce started on the amitryptoline, but then his prostate got enhanced and it [the marriage, the amitryptoline or the prostate?] went backwards.’

If a writer or speaker uses the verb ‘enhance’, s/he could well be making a value judgement. It depends on the context as well as on the connotations of the object of the verb ‘enhance’.

A workplace-relations minister can’t ‘enhance’ the Work Choices legislation if most people take ‘enhance’ to mean ‘improve something already of good quality’.

A federal treasurer can’t ‘enhance’ Australia’s tax system by introducing a GST.

A state premier can’t ‘enhance’ Sydney’s water supply by commissioning a de-salination plant.

A prime minister can’t ‘enhance’ our appreciation of him by telling us we’ve never been better off.

The re-formed Spice Girls can’t ‘enhance’ their body of work by recording another song.

Let’s give ‘enhance’ the flick and put the seven synonyms to work in the context of the enhanced movie character Austin Powers, who augmented his chest hair; manifested his alter-ego, Doctor Evil; emphasised his irresistibility by wearing groovy threads; exaggerated his tales of romantic success via his mojo; made his smile better by replacing his really bad teeth; aggravated the vibe at the disco when he declared, ‘This isn’t a woman, baby: this is a man!’ and decorated his pad with paisley wallpaper.