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Monday, December 18, 2006

It was certainly above average....

By Dick Hirsch
Just the other day I suddenly realized that I am surrounded by people of various ages and status who have a new favorite word to describe something---make that anything---that impresses them. I lead a rather sheltered life, but hardly a day goes by when I don’t hear that description being used, either in routine conversation or in some radio or TV talk.
I’m proud---or should I say embarrassed?---to say that the last time I used that word in speech or in print was around 1981. It was a spur of the moment decision, as I recall, and it just came out from the heart and the head, since it wasn’t a fashionable, trendy or modish word at the time.
Now, although I like the word, I refrain from using it because I don’t want to sound like everyone else. When I mention the word, as I’m about to do, I’m sure you will have noticed its abundant overuse.
The word is awesome. Everything these days is awesome.
Pizza is awesome. I overheard some people recounting their experience at a recently opened pizza parlor in a northern suburb. None of them had ever dined at the place before, so they were assessing the quality of the product, compared to other pizza vendors. They agreed that crust was just the right thickness, the toppings were more than sufficient, the appearance was delightful and the flavor was memorable. After much discussion, they agreed on a judgment:
“That was an awesome pizza.”
When the deal was apparently finalized giving $66 million to Bass Pro to convert Memorial Auditorium to a huge haven for outdoor enthusiasts, its potential impact was described as awesome by a long list of public officials and journalists. Their conclusion: awesome. Mayor Masiello was in that group, and he has emerged as a leading user of awesome, finding it suitable for virtually any development, especially during his third term.
(Not to be outdone, County Executive Giambra has added the term to his own regularly employed lexicon of positive adjectives, words that are useful in describing any situation he deems important, from county highway projects in places like Evans, Brant or Sardinia, to economic development announcements.)
The term is also a favorite of radio talk show hosts who apparently believe it adds to their credibility if they can pronounce a certain development as awesome. They’re in the same category as the writers of television commercials for car dealers, for whom every new car price and deal is just awesome...”drive on over for an awesome deal.”
I first began to notice the increasing frequency of usage as a result of conversations with my grandsons, Jake, 15, and Nate, 12. They serve as windows which enable me to peer into the mysterious world of youth culture. Certain articles of clothing, video games, movies and TV shows were invariably elevated to the rank of awesome. Jake acquired his first electric razor, and although his jaw doesn’t require barbering on anything approximating a regular schedule, he immediately reported that the razor does an awesome job. He also established certain standards for the girls in his classes. Some of them were average or okay, he concluded, but a special few were, well, they were just awesome.
As for Nate, whether he was describing a bass he caught last summer or an ample portion of his grandmother’s banana chocolate chip cake, there was only one description that would do them justice: awesome.
After years of benign neglect, awesome has been propelled out of the language dustbin. The funny thing is that a lot of people will be surprised if they read the definition. Defining awe, Webster’s New Collegiate says: “DREAD, TERROR: the power to inspire dread; emotion in which dread, veneration, and wonder are variously mingled; profound and humbly fearful reverence inspired by deity or by something sacred or mysterious; submissive and admiring fear inspired by authority or power.” Awesome is then defined simply as expressive of awe or inspiring awe.
Those who have made the term such an important part of their vocabulary don’t realize fear, dread and terror are the essential elements of awesome. I didn’t realize it myself, but I deserve credit for occasionally looking in the dictionary.
A person might resort to the dictionary if seeking an alternative for awesome, but my advice is to avoid one potential choice, “terrific.” Surprise! The dictionary defines terrific as “exciting fear or awe.” You can look it up.



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