Source: This piece was originally posted at The Daily Review: The New Yorker: Mary Norris- Comma Queen: “Awesome” Is the New “Massive”: How Real Words Lose Their Real Meaning
Just a quick note and a bit of a warning. Valley people both girls, but valley guys, are not going to like this piece. Because this is all about them and how they talk and dominate pop culture in America. Where now every news shows sound like MTV or Bravo in some cases. Instead of professional news shows. But the genius’ at these networks feel the greedy need to sound like this crowd so they can actually understand what’s being reported and will bother to watch. And I’m thinking of Erin Burnett and Brooke Baldwin, specifically over at CNN. As well as Rachel Maddow at MSNBC and Megyn Kelly at FNC.
I’m not familiar with the over usage of the word massive and maybe that’s because I can’t even find Australia on a map, yet alone actually been to it. Maybe because Australia is too small or too unimportant. Just kidding. I can find Australia on a map. But living in the Washington area in Bethesda, Maryland my whole life I’m very familiar with the over usage of the word awesome. I can’t go anywhere without hearing the word and in many cases I hear the word accidentally. Because I get stuck listening to someone else’s cell phone conversation, because that person couldn’t wait five minutes before they got out of the grocery store to call that person or call them back. That would be a typical Washingtonian for you. Someone who thinks they’re too important to have to wait for anything or anyone.
The actual definition of the word awesome is something that is ‘extremely impressive or daunting. Inspiring great admiration, apprehension or fear.’ So that cup of coffee that you had at Starbucks yesterday that was the exact same cup of coffee that you had the last five days, because you feel the need to go to Starbucks every single day, is not awesome. Now if the four previous cups of coffee you had there were average, well maybe you should find somewhere else to get your coffee, or find something better to do with your time. But if you went back to Starbucks and got a great cup of coffee on your fifth trip there after the four previous cups of coffee were average, then maybe that fifth cup of coffee would be awesome. Awesome has become the early 21st Century word for cool. I guess Millennial’s got tired of sounding like their parents and felt they needed their own hip word.
Cool and awesome are completely different words. Cool has multiple meanings of course. You can use cool to describe one’s personality and demeanor. ‘Joe is so cool. Nothing never bothers him. He always looks great and knows what to say. And even knows the real meaning of the word awesome. Which makes him smart and cool.’ Or you could use the word cool to describe the weather. Your food to say that was a cool meal or that was a cool meal. One could be a way to say that was a great meal and the other could be a way to say the potatoes and soup were cool and undercooked. Or maybe you just had a salad which in that case could go either way. Or you can use the word cool to describe something or someone as hip. Meaning someone whose in on the latest trends, if not sets them and perhaps actually leads the pack. Instead of like a cult follower who always follows the pack even when the pack goes off a hill at a hundred miles and hour, or jumps off a bridge.
Anyone who writes or blogs for a living, you’re not only be interested in language, but also protective of it. Because without words we would be like race car drivers without cars. Doctors without patients. Comedians without jokes and hopefully you get the point by now. When words lose their meaning it makes our jobs harder to communicate for a couple of reasons. We run out of words, but also we’re talking to people who simply don’t get the American English language, because they’ve beaten the hell out of it and no longer get it. Not everything that’s positive for you is awesome. And not only that but awesome is not always a positive thing. A car crash could be awesome, just because of how devastating it was to the people involved. A massive pile up with cars being totaled. A severe weather storm could be awesome because simply of the amount of damage that it did to that community or region. World War II was awesome in a horrible sense because of all the destruction that came as a result of property. But the millions of lives lost as well.
Pop culture, celebrity culture, tabloid culture and valley culture even, all have their places in America. But not to the point where they abuse the American English dictionary to the point that real words no longer have real meaning. When a real word like awesome becomes the way to describe any positive moment in one’s life like being able to leave work a half-hour earlier, or something as simple as that, then we have a real problem. Because what word would be use to describe your favorite team winning the Super Bowl that season when they weren’t even expected to make the playoffs. I mean isn’t that a hell of a lot more impressive than getting off work early on a Tuesday in Cleveland in February. All of these things have real relevance in America, but not to the point that it dumbs down our culture to the point that people no longer know how to talk to each other. Because they’re so worried about always looking and sounding cool.