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Awesome Wordology

Dear AVA,

I don't know what all the fuss is about. “Awesome” is the most phenomenally iconic word ever. Actually I buried and mourned it long ago, interred it with a host of other cheapened, diluted, inflated, and perverted superlatives, though not without some serious regret and resentment.

I'm a word guy and I will delve into the archaic, the arcane, or other languages to find the mot juste. If necessary I will create a new word to fit a definition lacking one. Hubris? Hell yes; I'm lousy with it.

So for years I actively resisted the cheapening of awesome. “Really? That cappuccino is 'awesome'?” I'd say. “Because you're not acting like it. You're drinking it. Shouldn't you be gaping or genuflecting or averting your eyes or something?”

To which the offender would reply: “Huh?”

My resistance, which would eventually be completely eroded, focused on awesome's singularity — there really is no replacement for it. The conditions associated with awe — fear, amazement, reverence, wonder — you will find grouped in no other definition. Therefore, when one finds oneself in a truly awe-inspiring situation: the aurora borealis, a nuclear explosion, a supernova, what have you: you may as well just say “cool,” 'cuz awesome don't mean shit.

“Phenomenal” I'm puzzled by. It's sort of like awesome in reverse. I don't have a dictionary handy, but as near as I can recall a phenomenon is an observable occurrence; something that happens. No qualification or values inherent. So when dipshit #1 says to dipshit #2 on Dancing With the Stars: “That Paso Doble was absolutely phenomenal!,” what he's saying is: that Paso Doble just happened. Which I guess is pretty awesome.

Iconic, another burr under my saddle, is almost not worth mentioning because the people who (improperly) use it sound so stupid that I feel sorry for them. An icon is a representation that stands for something else. A person achieves iconic status when they are so thoroughly associated with something that you cannot think of one without the other coming to mind. Michael Jordan is for sure a basketball icon. Madonna is definitely an 80s icon. Leighton Meester's performance on “Gossip Girl” is in no way iconic.

Yours in awesomeness,

Lynn Washburne

San Quentin

One Comment

  1. Albert Krauss December 20, 2011

    Oh gotcha (not as in one up on you – but as in the extinct word “grok”). I sure wish more people would get off on words. So, that “beginning” word that the meme infected people of God babble-on and on about, that “in the beginning” god awful word that supposedly was, er, “awesome”, now cascades down through the minds of the mindless, trashing all possibility for advancing to [- – ?- – -] this is the “Word” blank newly to be filled in! Have at it, Lynn. Avaunt, dragon slayer. Smash the icons of the masses. This is IkonKlaster speaking.

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