Never underestimate the ‘awesome’ power of words
A COUPLE of months ago, I happened to be in the company of American tourists. The party of about 30 people was taking in the sights and attractions of the country.
Inevitably, their current president came up for discussion, not with the entire group but with a couple I happened to be sitting beside. At the mention of his name, the woman lifted her eyebrows and whispered that ‘he’ had not been mentioned for the entire trip, “We don’t know who voted for who and we don’t ask. It is very divisive,” she explained. It was like civil war politics in Ireland, back when it mattered greatly whose side you were on.
The couple indicated quietly that they were Trump supporters. When I quizzed them about what they thought of his attitude to women, to people of colour and to climate change, the man waved his hand at me as if batting away my questions. “They are only words, what he is doing is great for the economy,” he said. That’s all that mattered.
In this age of fake news and alternative facts, it appears that words don’t matter, they represent nothing; you can say what you like to whomever you like and it doesn’t matter. “It’s the economy stupid.” It would seem that Theresa May and her Brexiteer friends are taking the same approach as they daily decouple words from their meaning.
This decoupling is typical of current common discourse and marks a significant change in the way we use language. Have you noticed how increasing affluence has been accompanied by a concomitant increase in our use of superlatives? Everything is now ‘exciting’, people gush in verbal geysers about the most mundane things, they will be ‘so excited for you’ even if the only bit of news you have is that you had a good visit to the chiropodist. You won’t be as excited for yourself, you’ ll just be able to walk with greater ease.
If the proverbial Martian were to find itself in orbit of the earth and listening in the dayto-day discourse in the Anglophone world, it would surely come to the conclusion that our daily reality is ‘absolutely amazing’, full of ‘incredible happenings’ and, ‘OMG’, multiple experiences to ‘die for’.
Awesome is the big word. Nowadays, everything is ‘awesome’, from the local panto to a slice of cheesecake. Of course, there are awesome things on the face of the earth. They tell me the Great Wall of China is an awesome sight, the sound of the water thundering over Victoria Falls in east Africa is an awesome sound, and standing on the summit of Mount Everest is an awesome feeling. For some reason, I don’t think a slice of cheesecake compares.
The ‘A’ word is as prevalent as yellow weather warnings. For instance, when I get a positive message on my phone and wish to make a swift reply, the predictive text suggests the word ‘awesome’ as an option. Even if the text merely tells me “the dog was fed,” I can, with one touch of my thumb, describe the event as ‘awesome’. And perhaps the experience was awesome for the dog, but I doubt it — he is given food on a regular basis. There might, however, be some justification for the superlative if the original text ended with the word ‘caviar’. To feed a dog caviar would indeed be an awesome waste of a delicacy. Indeed, the end result might not be too awesome on the carpet.
This latter-day tsunami of superlatives can leave one with the impression that the lives of others are far better than one’s own, resulting in a sense of inadequacy and unreal expectations.
There was a time when ‘pleased to meet you’ was a normal form of greeting. It accurately articulated the feelings associated with regular encounters and genuinely reflected the nature of these meetings. Nowadays, unless someone is ‘really excited’ to meet you or ‘sooooo excited’, you’re left wondering if you are boring or inadequate.
People involved in counselling tell me that many modern relationships are experiencing
Trump — his hurtful words mean nothing to his supporters