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.