They’re the two fall-back adjectives of the moment: awesome and amazing. I think of them as the new A-words. And if the world were full of people in a state of awe and amazement, I’d be fine with them. But it’s not.
I risk being totally ungracious here, since both words have been used on occasion with reference to me. I am grateful for the compliments, but really, I hardly inspire awe – at least I hope I don’t, since awe is as much terror as exhilaration. And I see nothing amazing in what I do, which consists of reading, thinking, writing, and speaking out. My problem is that however well-intended such compliments may be, both “awesome” and “amazing” have been so corrupted by over-use that there’s next to nothing either awesome or amazing left in them.
“Awesome” has spread so far up the age range from its origins in teen-speech that I find it hard to understand why newly minted teens still revert to it. When a freshly purchased pair of sandals or a new ice-cream flavor is called awesome, the word is worth about as much as the price of the cone the ice-cream’s served in. It has nothing to do with real awe — a state of being the speaker has clearly never experienced.
As for “amazing,” consider the way it’s said — in a tone of voice that no longer contains any hint of amazement, and with a downward inflection so that the speaker might just as well be saying “depressing.” This fake amazement has become an automatic response, in much the same realm as “Have a good day.”
I tested it not long ago at a gathering of well-connected millennials who prided themselves on what they took to be unconventional thinking, and whose standard conversation-starter was the utterly conventional “Where are you from?” At first I said Seattle, and this was deemed amazing, as though it were a surprise that anyone could possibly live in such a place. Then, just to check, I began to give other answers. Des Moines, I said. Or Detroit. Or – why not push it? – Dubai. And each answer got the same glassy-eyed response: that un-amazed “amazing.”
Scroll through the click-bait headlines of such sites as Gawker or Buzzfeed or The Huffington Post and you’ll find the A-words used ad nauseam (note to self: does ad nauseam count as an A-word?). Playful bear cubs and science breakthroughs, inspirational talks and dumb pratfalls, see-through dresses and stars exploding in outer space — all are mashed together in a mini-tsunami of awesomeness, amazement, astonishment, astoundingness. The A-list, I guess.
In the face of so much amazement and awe, I find myself gasping for space in which to breathe, let alone think. I’d say let’s avoid the meaningless use of such words, but the go-to impulse remains strong, and I’m sure I’ll keep using them just like everyone else.
But I hope to stay faithful to my favorite A-word: absurd. And – how could I forget? – accidental.
The wrong use of these words grates on my nerves too.
what is a ‘millennial’??
I am glad you wrote this. I am amazed that even educated adults have started using these word.
Dear Lesley Hazleton,
Clearly you have a superior understanding and command of the English language. Your flair in English and sincerity and clarity in expressing your thoughts make you a good author. That is my sincere opinion. Please don’t say I am a sycophant.
Oh go ahead, just call me amazing…
To add to the endless ‘a’,s….the common one in India is “aura”, relating to spiritual presence of a person…..all ‘god men’ having their own degrees of so-called ‘aura’…aargh!
Hear hear! (That’s from our colonial past!) going to read this to all those ‘amazing’ children in my school, and of course to all my ‘awesome’ teenage nephews and nieces!!
Love it. I’m guilty of having said “awesome” (I’m 61!) and will henceforth bite my tongue. You, however, are an articulate, amusing, and astute author.
In addition, these people who constantly use the word ‘amazing’ actually pronounce it, ‘amazeen’. (Which is super ANNOYING.)