Lists. We love them and we see them everywhere. Just scrolling through your social media feeds you will come across a multitude of them from “top ten new shows to watch” to “five ways to dress better for the fall”. They are a great way to organize things and are universally understood due to the simple sequential numbering system. They also play into our need for tidbits of information by telling us right from the get-go how much information is contained within the story or link which also gives us an immediate notion of how much attention and time the story will demand from us.
While we always wished to gain new knowledge the internet has given us a new medium which allows for a virtually limitless supply of information that is available instantaneously. In sense we have become the Sesame Street character the Cookie Monster but instead of cookies we want information to devour and we want it in neat little packets right now.
Given all that, it is only natural that there is a list published at the end of every year listing the most overused words. The entries range from newer words such as selfie to older words such as passion and it is here that we find the word awesome.
At first glance this entry seems to make complete sense as we hear and see it everywhere. “That’s awesome” is just a regular run of the mill expression nowadays, but when you think about it, does it make any sense that it is used that much?
The definition of the word awesome is supposed to be interrelated to something that leaves us in awe which in of itself means a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder. So are we all just having years which are on the verge of fear and wonder which would make the use of the word fitting? Or is it that we have come to use the word in a lesser situation and to represent something of a different nature?
As you can probably tell it is the latter of the two.
We have come to use the word awesome in a less than awesome sense and more in a cool sense. And just like the word cool which used to mean something along the lines of calm or cold, we have expropriated the meaning to represent “great” but in a colloquial way.
The thing is we hijack the meaning of words all the time as we are constantly redefining the way language is used and what words mean through the organic evolution of language. Listed below are three examples.
3 words we use differently than what they actually mean.
What we think it means: Amazing; extraordinary
Its original meaning: Not credible; unbelievable
What we think it means: Very good
Its original meaning: Very large; of unusual size; remarkable.
What we think it means: Very good
Its original meaning: Frightening; terrifying
If you take some time to think about many of the words that you say and use on a daily basis you would probably be surprised by how many of them are defined differently than how you are using them. But that does not mean we are using them wrong.
Languages evolve and change so it follows suit that word usage will change from one generation to the next. But this is not true in all cases as we can still use words wrong even though they are evolving into something different.
Going back to our discussion about the word awesome, it should be noted that this word used to reign as a supreme, penultimate sensation. Something awesome was something heavenly to the point of it creating fear. While most words can change meanings without any associated problems the adjectives that are reserved for the extremities cause issues when they are used incorrectly.
If you are to think of a circular spectrum of adjectives, normal would fall at its center and all the other words would radiate out in different directions until you hit the words on the extremity of the spectrum. Words like infinite, extreme and awesome would be at these end points with no other words following them. That is because by definition these words have no greater level. By our misrepresenting them we take away their power and their gravity but leave our vocabulary with no replacements for the void we have created.
So if you experience something is it really awesome or is it is just good? Or how would you describe something that is truly awesome once you have experienced it? The same questions could be asked for the usage of the words extreme and infinite and numerous others. We could make up new words but then we would fall into the same trap we are in now.
To help us all out the article “Awesome: The most overused word in English” has put together a list of alternatives to awesome and while this will not fix the dethroning of words we are currently responsible for it will help to curtail it. And it’s in all in a list.
35 Alternatives to Awesome
- Out of this world
Do you have any other suggestions? Let us know in the comments below.
And once again, thanks for reading.