I love the English language. It is a multi-faceted jewel of untold value.
There is just one word which frustrates, grates and irritates me, a word which has been devalued to the point of meaninglessness and which has crushingly invaded my world like no other.
Awesome has come to mean everything but awesome.
Awesome as it used, just means, good. Where people might once have described everything as ‘cool’, now everything is awesome. It is hyperbole without irony, even when it is used ironically.
There is a blog called 1000 Awesome things which has produced a book called “The Book of Awesome”. The marketers of this book should be prosecuted for false representation of their product.
It’s awesome that the other side of the pillow is cool. No it isn’t, it’s just because you didn’t put your head on that side yet.
Bacon for breakfast is awesome. Not if you’re a vegetarian, Jewish, or Muslim.
It’s awesome that the train door opened right in front of me. Why, because you’re too lazy to move?
Awesome has become a throwaway term for anything that isn’t shit.
The reason for this is clear to see. Our lives have become brutalised and robbed of value to the extent where very small, slightly sentimental things are accorded quasi-religious significance.
Andy Warhol would understand this – he saw it coming.
Andy Warhol. Awesome. No, just clever, insightful, and a pioneer.
How was your day? Awesome. Oh right. Nothing bad happened, then.
WHY CAN’T PEOPLE FIND BETTER WORDS? It goes beyond laziness. Imagine if we ceased using colour descriptors – no more red, yellow, orange, blue, green, purple, just saying that something has a colour but never defining what that colour is. Imagine if we never described food as having any particular taste, but just said it was tasty. What was the food like? Tasty. It tells us nothing except that it met personal preferences. We don’t know if the food was sweet or sour, Italian or Japanese. These are equivalents, which communicate so little as to be totally useless.
There is a story I once heard about the making of The Greatest Story Ever Told, a bloated expensive Hollywood failure of a film about the life of Christ.
Looking up at Jesus on the cross, in time-honoured cowboy Western style, actor John Wayne, playing a Roman centurion, speaks the famous line, “Surely this was the son of God.”
Director George Stevens shouts, “Cut!” then leans in and says to John, “John, just try that again, this time with more awe.”
“Action!” The cameras roll. In the blazing Arizona sun, Wayne squints up at the cross, and drawls the line:
“Aw, surely this man was the Son of God….”
This wonderfully funny gaffe is much more than an actor’s mistake – it epitomises the dearth of understanding which undermines our notion of what is truly impressive.
Now I could react to this in several ways. One way would be to explain to anyone who will listen that awesome is a non-word and please could they find a better descriptor. I have tried this sometimes, when I can be bothered, and frankly, I’m pissing in the wind. I come across like an obsessive pedant, which may be the case, but it is not a good personal image.
Another would be try to re-connect the word with its root – ‘awe’ – meaning wonder, veneration – an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, and this seems a more rewarding route to take.
To reclaim the power and stature of Awesome opens up possibilities. It could be an exciting personal project which has the potential to reinvigorate a word which I currently avoid like the black death, and restore it to personal usage. The search for awesome provides a conceptual thread for art, it could even become a quest, taking me to places geographical which I have yet to witness, and even into the realms of spiritual experience. I might even write a book about it.
Now that would be awesome.