I love the vast variety of words available to us in the English language. Synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, heteronyms. I love their sounds and the nuances of meanings.
Let’s camp there for a moment. Words have meaning. Yes, you may be rolling your eyes at the moment, but stick with me. This is important, because you see, meanings change.
A few years ago, I read an email that illustrated this point. “How Old is Grandma?” noted that in the writer’s day:
- Grass was mowed
- Coke was a cold drink
- Pot was something your mother cooked in
- Rock music was your grandmother’s lullaby
- Aids were helpers in the Principal’s office
- Chip meant a piece of wood
- Hardware was found in a hardware store
- Software wasn’t even a word
(As I re-read this list, I realized the title may need to be changed to “How Old is Great-Grandma?”! 😉 )
Which brings us to the word awesome. In one recent afternoon, I read a series of Facebook posts that used awesome to describe:
- an afternoon competition
- a girls’ day out
- seeing an alligator up close
- swimming with whales
- a positive book review
- a photo of a couple of friends sitting in a restaurant
- a fishing tournament
- a novel someone had read
Awesome is now used to describe anything that is excellent. In fact, its second meaning in the dictionary is listed as “terrific, extraordinary.” But its primary meaning is “an expression of awe” or something that inspires awe.
The word awesome has been part of our English vocabulary for more than four hundred years, but it has only been in the past fifty years or so that we have diluted its meaning so that the same word can be used to refer to God and a fishing tournament.
I know word usage changes over time. It’s what makes our language so interesting. But I ask your forgiveness in advance if you see me cringe when awesome is used to describe anything else but our great God. Call me old-fashioned, but really, is anyone or anything else truly worthy of that description?
What do you think?
Yes, I agree. Some words shouldn’t be tampered with, though I confess to having overused the word awesome as well.
I thought I would also comment on your third item in your list. There is a generation who took the word “pot” to mean something to pee in. That is especially funny to me, because once when the doctor came to our house for a sick patient (which also dates the incident), he asked mom for a pot. She was puzzled, but never one to question – went to get the pee pot, washed it out, and presented it to the doctor.
Janice, our English language has contributed to many miscommunications! 🙂
Ava, thanks for articulating what I have thought about the inappropriate and excessive use of “awesome.” Only God is awesome and does awesome things. Last year on vacation in Canada, it appeared that “awesome” was a colloquialism used by servers in local restaurants. When I was asked, “How are you?” I replied, “Fine, thank you.” Each time the response was “Awesome!” There are those who use the adjective “incredible” incredibly often.
Judy, it is strange how certain words become fashionable, isn’t it? 🙂