Monday 1 January 2007This is over 16 years old. Be careful.

As they do every year, the language kvetches at Lake Superior State University published their List of Banished Words (that’s actually the current list, there is no permanent URL for the 2007 list, which will probably be here someday). One of the banished words this year is “awesome”.

Their reason for banishment is that the word is used indiscriminately for all sorts of out of the ordinary situations. Its meaning has also changed: it used to mean inspiring awe, but now merely means really good.

But this is not unusual. In fact, it seems to me that most of the words we have for “really good” used to have more specific meanings: great, terrific, fabulous, wonderful, amazing, brilliant, fantastic, magnificent, excellent. I don’t know if this is unusual to English. All of the words available to us for expressing extreme delight have very specific meanings lost over time as the word is used to exclaim about what pleases us most.

We could certainly choose our words more carefully, find more precise and unusual adjectives to express ourselves. In writing, I’m sure you’ll find far fewer uses of “awesome” than you do in everyday speech. But using “awesome” as the current best word for best isn’t bad. It’s just language evolving, as languages do. Awesome!


The change in the meaning of "awesome" is an example of what I have long called "language inflation". Google tells me that I'm not the only person to use this phrase. But my favorite example is the march of euphemisms for a lack of intelligence: from stooped (not standing upright) to dumb (cannot speak) to imbecilic, idiotic, retarded (slow) etc; to an incident my cousin (an elementary school teacher) witnessed a few years ago, where a fourth-grader was calling another "EMR EMR EMR EMR!" ... (EMR meant Educably Mentally Retarded that year.)

And ... if these guys at LSSU didn't encounter chipotle before 2005, well, gee, they must be from the upper midwest or something! :-/ IMHO, folks who make up such lists should get out more.
Using quite a lot of different words for essentially the same concept (greatness or whatever) might be a cultural thing too. While I have been living in the UK for 2 years I find it strange that people found this or that great/terrific/awesome for which I would say (in german) ok, good, or not so good, just sufficient etc.
The americans I got to know used the positive notion even more inflationary than people from the UK.

It seems people where I come from (maybe just the area not the country) seem to say what they really mean and not that *everything* is just great.

I do not think that this is a better way though, just a different culture maybe?

Anyway, your article reminded me of that experience...
"language inflation"? Yeah maybe it's cultural, and there's also language "exchange rates", you know, because things are simply more awesome, generally, in some parts of the world compared to others, but the people there are stuck without all the fancy words to describe it all in such detail. So some people will still use the word, thanks. Sandler put it best in "Little Nicky" when he said "feel the awesome" and bestowed a lil' Popeye's Chicken on the devil guys.

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