Never un­der­es­ti­mate the ‘awe­some’ power of words

Irish Independent - Farming - - RURAL LIFE -

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

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