Dropping the A-word: An awesome cliche

Awesome. From Shakespeare’s time the word has meant exactly what it said: something that inspires awe.

A sky full of towering thunderheads stitched with jagged bolts of lightning – that would be awesome. A forest fire at its furious worst -definitely awesome. So too, a military barrage, a waterfall, a field of golden wheat winnowed by the wind.

And awesome needn’t be enormous.

The transformation of a caterpillar into a Monarch butterfly is decidedly awesome, as is the exoskeleton of a cricket or the machinations of a honey bee. The guts of a humble wristwatch are awesome to behold; and ‘awesome’ fits a Bach prelude like an ivory-hilted stiletto in a doeskin sheath.

A grand word, awesome, and it has served us well. But somewhere along the way word mutated, morphed and bloated into semantic meaninglessness.

This morning in a coffee shop I said “I’ll have a medium coffee, black, please.” “Awesome,” the barista said.

No. No, that’s not awesome. As cups of coffee go, it turned out to be not half bad, but ‘okay’ is several light years from ‘awesome’.

Over the past little while I’ve been informed by, or overheard people affirming that: they’ve purchased an awesome T-shirt, watched an awesome commercial, eaten an awesome hamburger and met an awesome real estate agent. I’d like to believe that all these experiences were as jawdroppingly life-altering as the adjective ‘awesome’ implies. But somehow I doubt it.

Exuberance is an admirable quality, but it’s a seasoning, not a staple food. Too much relish can ruin a perfectly adequate hot dog.

The hyper-inflating trajectory of the word awesome reminds me of the early twentieth century Deutschmark.

One day the German currency was hardy and stable, worth the equivalent of a modern Canadian loony, give or take. The next day a wheelbarrow full of thousand-Deutschmark banknotes wouldn’t buy you a bratwurst.

‘Awesome’ is undergoing the linguistic equivalent right now. There is a book in your local bookstore called The Book of Awesome. You’ll find it sitting cheek by jowl, by another book entitled The Book of Even More

Awesome. Call me prophetic, but I foresee future best sellers with names like The Even Awesomer Book of Awesome, and Son of Book of Awesome Take Two, the Sequel.

It’s not just books. There is an Awesome Foundation in San Francisco. In Massachusetts there is an Institute of Higher Awesome Studies. How long before some entrepreneur brings out the Awesome potato peeler, Awesome detergent, or Awesome chewing gum?

You know what I think? I think it would be refreshing to sequester the word ‘awesome’ for a spell. Give it a time out, a sabbatical, a little shore leave. We’ve got lots of bench strength to take up the slack – we could always buy a ‘splendid’ T shirt, watch a ‘hilarious’ commercial, eat a ‘delicious’ hamburger and meet a ‘mesmerizing’ real estate agent. The A-word could be resting in rehab, regaining its former lustre and glory.

That would be truly awesome.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Online video series to feature writers from Tofino and Ucluelet

Quite Determined series launched to showcase creative minds whose speaking events were cancelled.

Ucluelet releases COVID-19 Recovery Plan

Part of the recovery plan involves deploying three district staff as COVID-19 Community Monitors

Tofino mayor urges “kindness” as tourism reopens

“Health and safety matters to everyone.”

Resorts in Tofino and Ucluelet prepare to reopen in June

“We need to get the tourist economy in our communities back up and running.”

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve plans limited reopening on June 4

The Park Reserve shut down on March 18 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

VIDEO: Injured bald eagle rescued in B.C. First Nations community

Bird suspected injured in fight, whisked off to Coquitlam rehab

Toronto Raptors’ Ujiri says conversations about racism can no longer be avoided

Thousands have protested Floyd’s death and repeated police killings of black men across the United States

B.C.’s Central Kootenay region declares state of emergency, issues evacuation orders

The evacuation alert covers all areas except the Cities of Castelgar and Nelson

‘I’m afraid’: Witnesses of wolf attack on senior near Prince Rupert worried about safety

Frank Russ shows where the unprovoked wolf attacked his father

Protesters prepare to rally against racism in front of Vancouver Art Gallery

Rally is in response to the deaths of black Americans and a Toronto woman

Man dies in ATV accident south of Nanaimo

Incident happened on backroad Friday night in Nanaimo Lakes area

Protesters rally against anti-black, Indigenous racism in Toronto

Police estimated the crowd to be between 3,500 and 4,000 and said there was no violence

Feds earmark $1.5M to support recovery of B.C., Indigenous tourism

B.C. money will be split between Vancouver Island and Indigenous tourism

‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.

Tens of thousands marched to protest the death of George Floyd

Most Read