Great! Swell! Wonderful! Anything but ... awesome!

Contributing WriterJune 22, 2013 

I give you fair warning. I’m in an ugly mood (which is not to be confused with an ugly face): If I hear anyone use the word “awesome” ever again, I may scream. And you don’t want to hear a grown man scream.

A person can’t listen to that one word dozens of times a day without coming a bit unhinged. But first, let me apologize for using that word today. However, I can’t warn you away from awesome without temporarily overusing the word myself.

I’m guessing that awesome, like most excessively used words, started among teenagers. Those little linguistic rascals are quick to fall into lockstep in the use of currently popular expressions. A cute new expression is like a pair of the latest tennis shoes; they all want it and they want it now.

Soon the word migrates into the minds of those chronic adolescents between the ages of 20 and 90 years of age. Soon everybody of any age is wearing out the word.

“I have a new medicine for my high blood pressure,” says an 80 year old.

“Awesome,” says the 90 year old.

That poor word is so overused today that it means everything and it means nothing. It has become little more than a way of grunting in response to what someone else says. That is because so many people don’t really care what anyone else is saying.

I recognize I am offending practically everyone. But enough is enough. North America alone produces at least 15 billion uses a day of awesome. We have become too simple to find substitutions for that one overworked teenage word that has now escaped the teen years and infected everybody else.

Those who say that word all day long don’t even use it in ways that are appropriate to its meaning.

If you say, “My dog likes food,” they will say “Awesome!”

If you say, “Your mom choked on a blueberry and died,” they will say “Awesome!”

May I disrespectfully suggest that we give the word a rest? We should fine anyone who doesn’t comply. If we take a breather on that word for a year or so, everyone can learn the many alternatives to awesome.

For starters, how about these:

Amazing, overwhelming, astounding, splendid, fabulous, remarkable and stupendous, not to mention rooty toot tooty, gol-LEE, splendiferous and holy moly.

Listening to the constant, unrelieved use of the highest accolade with no hope for a more measured description is like hearing inflated praise for children who haven’t earned it. Everybody is declared a winner.

It’s a sweet but dysfunctional idea to declare every child awesome every time life asks him to compete. That silly salve on little egos risks teaching children that they don’t have to excel. Every child is a winner, every time, even if he doesn’t study, train or try.

Using one high word – awesome – to describe the good, the bad and the ugly is as harmful as telling me that I need not try to improve my singing because we are all awesome.

Mind you, I wouldn’t imprison people who use awesome constantly, but I would forbid them to produce children. Anyone who can’t find a single substitute for the offending word should be thrown out of the gene pool.

English is a huge, rich and diverse language, a verbal toolbox full of functional words ready for any need. It’s a shame to be born into a language of a million precise words and then gradually reduce them to one big, fuzzy generalization that turns any conversation into empty babble.

That isn’t even close to awesome.

Bill Hall can be contacted at wilberth@cableone.net or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501

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