Hey, that would be 'awe ...'
Please think of the following as a mild-mannered public service announcement. I'll leave the anti-smoking and the no drinking or texting while driving warnings to the Ad Council. This spot, while earnest in its own right, is not about deadly choices but rather about word choice.
I want to inform you about the effects of misusing that ubiquitous "A" word — "Awesome!"
We are all aware that talking about word usage is risky even in the land where speech is free. In order to avoid being hastily judged as a snooty meddler, I would like to give you some assurances up front. I am not a prig or a purist when it comes to variations on English grammar and vocabulary. Language is alive and it has been evolving since Slur from Ur came up with the first word, which linguists agree was "Ugh"! I don't give a dang about most slang. I ain't agin' regional dialects or colloquialisms. I don't vilify vernacular. I'm not even down on bebonics. (I do have some negative cognitive vibrations when it comes to euphemisms, but that's a different diatribe).
Considering the preceding revelations, you are certainly justified in asking, hey, so what's this dude's problem with the "A" word? After all, the "A" word is sprinkled liberally in conversations overheard in the home, on the street, in the workplace, in restaurants and even on television news shows. In fact, you can hardly go through a day without hearing it used dozens of times in utterly mundane situations.
And that is the problem.
The "A" word is becoming so slick with everyday use that its real meaning can no longer cling to it. How did that happen?
Webster's II New College Dictionary, provides the following clues:
Awesome. Adj. 1. Inspiring awe. 2. Displaying or marked by awe. 3. Slang. Remarkable: Outstanding.
With those definitions in mind, first consider things that are not awesome. A new hairstyle. A spray tan. Your phone. Painted finger or toe nails. Miley Cyrus's tongue, or anything to do with celebrity styles or fashion paraphernalia or politics. New possessions, including even high-end products such as Ferraris, Gucci and Prada are not awesome. Awesome things or events are not found in the everyday social, economic and bureaucratic transactions we employ in our daily journey through the kaleidoscope of popular culture.
Again, with those definitions in mind, let's examine what kind events and things can be awesome. Some, but certainly not all, meteorological events can be. A chance of rain or partly sunny is not awesome. The Northern Lights are awesome, as is a special sunset that paints fantastic cloud shapes using a palette of unimaginable colors. Many planets, most stars, many galaxies and star-spawning nebulae are awesome. Many cosmic events, due to their sheer scale and power, are awesome: gamma ray bursts, supernovae and black holes to name a few.
Some human achievements are worthy of awe. Ancient architecture. Some modern bridges, dams and buildings. Some music and art. Nuclear bombs and ICBMs are awesome in a truly dreadful way. Even some individual human beings are awesome because of the gifts of love and peace they have delivered. The most awesome of human events are those that raise spiritual consciousness to new heights.
Having identified a problem, I feel I must also offer solutions. If I seek to limit the use of the "A" word, then it is up to me to provide some substitutes.
"Groovy" comes to mind, but it seems as passé as Art Garfunkel's hairdo or hootenannies. Another possibility is "outstanding!" Hey, it's even part of the slang definition of the "A" word. But it has been largely co-opted by the military, and using it could lead to unintended consequences. "Sweet" is somewhat appealing but a bit too saccharin. Other words come to mind, such as amazing, spectacular, remarkable, marvelous and so on, but I don't think we want to wear them out during ordinary parlance. I'm guessing no one would want to go international with "spot on" or "magnifique!"
But wait, I just had an epiphany! We already have the perfect word, and it has significant street cred. I'm talking about the "C" word. "Cool!" It's timeless, short and right to the point. So, what do you think of my new car, boat, hairdo, deodorant, house, gun and so on. "Cool!" I do yoga. "Cool!" I love yogurt. "Cool."
Let me emphasize that this public service announcement is, in the end, about personal choice. The linguistic police are not going to cuff your tongue and imprison your vocal chords if you misuse the "A" word. But if we could just give it a try for a while, that would truly be "awe"¦." Oops. That would truly be "Cool."
Roger Anderson lives in a house somewhere in the Applegate.