Dropping the A-word

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

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 jaw-droppingly 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.  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 someone brings out the Awesome potato peeler, Awesome detergent, or Awesome chewing gum?

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.

Now that would be truly awesome.

— This column appears every Tuesday in The NEWS. E-mail: arblack43@shaw.ca.

Just Posted

Individuals chosen to begin ‘road to recovery’ at supportive housing facility

Orca Place at 222 Corfield St. is expected to open this summer

RCMP make arrest following break-in at Parksville’s Log Cabin General Store

Police credit tips from public for helping with case

Qualicum Beach craft beer festival to showcase local brews, spirits

Event will feature 20 Vancouver Island breweries and distilleries

Nanaimo, Lantzville, Parksville, Qualicum partner on studying child care needs

Union of B.C. Municipalities provides $125,000 grant

VIDEO: Killer whale steals fisherman’s catch off North Coast

Fishing duel results in eager orca snagging salmon in Prince Rupert

Child killed after being hit in driveway on Vancouver Island

The driver of the vehicle remained at the crash scene and is fully cooperating

Vancouver Island woman assaulted after confronting thief

RCMP warn residents to call for police assistance

Cat badly hurt in animal trap was likely stuck for days, B.C. owner says

Blu, a three-year-old house cat, suffered severe damage to his hind leg after being stuck in trap for days

Island Health issues safer drug-use tips ahead of music festival season

Health authority aims to reduce overdose risks at festivals

40 cats surrendered in apparent hoarding at B.C. home

Officers found the cats living among piles of garbage and feces, suffering from fleas

PHOTOS: North Island home gutted in fire deemed ‘suspicious’

No injuries reported; firefighters prevented blaze from spreading

Eating sandwiches, putting on makeup behind the wheel could land you a fine

RCMP say if you cause an accident while eating you could be penalized

Fate of accused in Canadian couple’s 1987 killings in jury’s hands

William Talbott’s lawyer says DNA doesn’t prove murder

Most Read