Saturday, 25 August 2007


Or, as we pronounce it on this side of the Atlantic, awesome. Actually, it is better if we don’t pronounce it at all, for even in America where it was first mis-used it has been despised for more than twenty years.

The OED has:
1. Full of awe, profoundly reverential.
2. Inspiring awe; appalling, dreadful, weird.
3a. In weakened sense: overwhelming, staggering; remarkable, prodigious. colloq. (orig. and chiefly U.S.).
3b. In trivial use, as an enthusiastic term of commendation: marvellous; great; stunning; mind-boggling. (slang)

Nowadays, of course, it generally has only the last meaning.

Lake Superior State University published last January its 32nd Annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness. Awesome had been given a one-year moratorium in 1984, "during which it is to be rehabilitated until it means 'fear mingled with admiration or reverence; a feeling produced by something majestic’. Many have written to tell us there's no hope and it's time for the full banishment."

So now it has appeared in their 2007 list, with the comments of its nominators:
"The kind of tennis shoes you wear, no matter how cute, don't fit the majestic design of the word."
"That a mop, a deodorant or a dating service can be called 'awesome' demonstrates the limited vocabularies of the country's copywriters."
"Overused and meaningless:' My mother was hit by a car ... Awesome!'. 'I just got my college degree ... Awesome!'"

You can nominate your own bêtes noires for inclusion in the 2008 list here, or see the complete list since 1984 here.

Many of these words and phrases are, happily, never seen outside North America, and there are some which you may consider to be clichés but occasionally useful, to be used sparingly but not totally banished.


Anonymous said...

Actually Andrea May of Shreveport Louisiana I think you'll find that
movies play in cinemas, a perfectly good word with an unambiguous
meaning. Plays and musicals play in theaters, or theatres as some
old-fashioned folk laughably refer to them. This is also a perfectly
good word with an unambiguous meaning. At least it was until people
started using it interchangeably with cinema.

Right to banish, wrong reason.

Corey V. said...

This post is awesome.

Tony said...

Thank you, Corey, nice to hear from you again. But you're an American person - wouldn't you say "Arsm"?