Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Worst Thing Ever is Awesome

I’ve been laid up recently, having had a doctor go crazy on my left foot and it’s given me a lot of time to think. Now mostly what I’ve been thinking about is: my left foot hurts, but in between throbs some other thoughts have come to mind.

One of them has to do with the change in the English language.

Words, phrases and jargon change over time; its why we don’t speak Old English anymore (though it’d be cool if we did because I remember enough of it and I might be able to parse out what you were saying), but I have to admit it’s weird living in a time when the meaning of words and phrases shifts from decade to decade.

Here are a couple of examples:


I’m not sure what happened to the word awesome.

To me awesome used to mean something that was worthy of awe: like God if you believe in God, or a sunrise or something you didn’t see every day. Nowadays awesome means something else entirely, and it’s something not even remotely as impressive as whatever awesome used to mean.

Now, I’m as guilty of this as the next person (as long as the next person is guilty of it too, otherwise, I’m guiltier than the next person). Awesome these days generally means the same thing as cool, at least to me, which generally means something good has happened. It doesn’t have to be extremely good, it’s just good.

For instance:

Wife: Husband, supper is ready.
Me: Awesome.

Don’t’ get me wrong my wife is a great cook, but under the old meaning of awesome her cooking may not have fit the parameters and it would have had to settle for exceptional. But as Bob Dylan sang: the answer is blowing in the wind... or wait, the times they are a changing (I don’t know Bob).

So what happened to awesome? In a word: dilution.

Like anything, when used too much its effectiveness wears off. We’ve used the word awesome so much it no longer has the punch, the pizzazz, the panache it used to carry.

I blame these guys:

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were an excitable group of amphibious superheroes who often got overly excited about any number of things, the most common of which would probably have been pizza. The moment you start exclaiming pizza as awesome, the word begins to lose a fair chunk of its face value.

The Worst Thing Ever

While languishing on the couch the other day, watching A&E, I saw a commercial for a dot com company that sells stamps. The commercial began with a very serious middle age man staring earnestly into the camera, saying: “The worst thing ever is having to go to the post office and wait in line.”

The worst thing ever is going to the post office?

Now granted, even with the reputation of the modern day postal worker as someone always on the cusp of violent outburst, it struck me that, if in this man’s life the worst thing he’d ever encountered was needing to go the post office, this gentleman was doing remarkably well.

There are countries full of starving people, places where people are persecuted for religion, skin color, sexual orientation, places subjected to repeated natural disasters costing thousands of lives, leaving behind people dealing with loss and suffering on an enormous scale. All over the world there are horrible things happening to good people every day (you’re welcome for the cheer session).

And the worst thing ever for this man is going to the post office and waiting in line for stamps.

Phrases like “the worst thing ever” should probably be saved for events which have an actual shot of, were there a worldwide election ever held, being voted as the “worst thing ever.”

Now don’t get me wrong, hyperbole has its place in entertainment, but some things just stand out as stupid. But then, perhaps I’m expecting too much from a company trying to sell stamps over the internet.

These have been only two examples of a not-so subtle shift in language, and I’m sure you could thing of more if you really tried. I tried to think of more, but with the pains in my foot nothing came to mind, so if you could suggest more, that’d be awesome; it’s like, the worst thing ever trying to come up with examples...


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