22 September 2015

Awesome Addendum

Last Friday’s blog post, Awesome!, addressed the awesome power of the feeling of awe. As such, I know you’ll agree this addendum should address the expression “awesome.” The focus, of course, is when awesome is used to mean excellent or the like instead of its traditional meaning--to inspire admiration, apprehension or fear.

It’s only an expression.
I never used the expression before last Friday’s post. I’m not bothered if others use it. It’s not at all like substituting “no problem” for “you’re welcome,” a grave error I discussed in an earlier blog post (Linguistic Longings). To me, “awesome” falls more in line with “cool.” There are alternative words for both, and both can be overused, which definitely isn’t cool.

History of Awesome

Robert Lane Greene, who grew up using the expression, traced the etymology of awesome from biblical references of awe, to its inclusion in the 1598 Oxford English Dictionary, through its evolution over the centuries, to its definition in the 1980 Official Preppy Handbook as “terrific” or “great.”

A few months ago, Ammon Shea summarized much the same history and compared it to the history of “awful,” which once meant inspiring dread. The article also noted that, in 1977, a letter-writer to the Los Angeles Times questioned the overuse of awesome.

Overuse of Awesome

Overuse is the common complaint. In 2011, Barb Sawyers wrote an article, 'Awesome': The most overused word in English. To aid those who are “too lazy, busy, insecure, stupid or whatever to think of a more original or relevant word,” she listed 45 alternative descriptors. (She began with A-Amazing, ended with Y-You rock, and in between included Heart-stopping, Shazam and Un-freakin believable.) Apparently the article didn’t work, because it was reprinted in 2013.

But the clarion call to “retire awesome” was repeated in a 2014 article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. To support the action, the article mentioned Googling the phrase “overuse of the word awesome” and getting more than half a million matches. 

Steps to be awesome. (Modified
from graphic on multiple websites.)
Perhaps the complaints are finally working. When I Googled “overuse of awesome,” I got fewer than a half a million results, about 481,000. For comparison, when I Googled “overuse of absolutely,” I got over twice as many results, about 1,130,000.

Most important, when I Googled “use of ‘no problem’ instead of ‘you're welcome,’” there were nearly a million results!


Robert Lane Greene’s article on awesome:
Ammon Shea’s article on awesome: blog.dictionary.com/awesome/
Barb Sawyers article on awesome: www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/Awesome_The_most_overused_word_in_English__42972.aspx
Chattanooga Times Free Press article on awesome: www.timesfreepress.com/news/life/entertainment/story/2014/jan/05/lets-retire-awesome/128030/

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