Awesome (Not)

Generally speaking, changes in the English languages are good. I especially like the additions, many of which come from slang, and there are literally hundreds of these each year added to a dictionary near you. Lately we have been seeing a lot of inclusions from black street culture, enough that I knew a person a few years back who was writing her Master’s thesis on the phenomenon.

I am underwhelmed, however, when a perfect valid word is ruined because people are too lazy to find and use better terminology. “Awesome” is one such word. Too many people, unable or too lazy to come up with another word, apply the term “awesome” to everything. “My English teacher is awesome!” “Firefox is awesome!” “That peanut butter sandwich was awesome!” No, no and no.

An awesome thing inspires awe. Awe is generally defined as an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful. If your English teacher is Kurt Vonnegut (no longer possible, sadly) then you have a chance. Firefox is a browser, not an object of reverence. And a peanut butter sandwich is generally not even much of a meal.

“Awesome” is, or at least it was, a word reserved for truly magnificent, stupefying, breathtaking things. When the light is exactly right, the Grand Canyon can be awesome. When you first understand String Theory, you see that it is an awesome concept. A look into deep space from a space-based telescope can be awesome. If you are a religious person, you probably feel that your particular god is awesome.

If you are stupefied by Firefox, you need to get out more. If that peanut butter sandwich seemed magnificent, just wait until you graduate to a nice pâté de foie gras. The jury is still out on your English teacher, but she has to be listed as doubtful. Take a chance. Learn a new word or two. Learn to use them properly. What can it hurt?


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