At 40 years old, I have become the thing I use to fear and loathe the most. I have become the kind of person who uses the word “awesome”. After years of meticulous aversion, I have become a person who says “awesome” as part of an otherwise complete sentence. Worse, I have become a person who uses the word “awesome” as a complete sentence entirely unto itself. Lately, I find myself casually tossing the word around as in “Thanks. That would be awesome.” Or, “Wow! You are so awesome.” Or, “Nice work. Awesome job!”
The trouble with awesome is it often travels with an exclamation point which is the lowest, most debased form of punctuation. As a child of the ’80’s, awesome began as a mongrel, flabby adjective. I didn’t grow up in the Valley where everything was sweet, fresh and occasionally bitchin’. Awesomeness was everywhere. It was a way of showing vague appreciation or enthusiasm at arms length, without any commitment or ownership.
And then, sometime in the mid ’90’s church people adopted the awesomeness and spoke of God and God’s love and fellowship in the same tone they used to describe grandma’s mashed potatoes. All of it was awesome.
And this, I think, is the problem I have developed with awesomeness. We throw it around casually. We use the word sometimes ironically, sometimes with great sincerity and it is impossible to tell which is which. The word has become nondescript. It says and means exactly nothing. Everything we like or enjoy or approve of gets swallowed up by awesomeness and we no longer draw meaningful lines of comparison between an awesome book, an awesome piece of cake and an awesome haircut.
And here’s the problem. Awesome actually means “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear;causing or inducing awe”. (See for yourself.) True awesomeness involves sublimation of the self into a greater experience of being that negates one’s own distinction between self and other. I have never eaten mashed potatoes that were that kind of awesome. Have you?
For 40 years, I protected myself with a rigorous, grammatical hygiene. I sneered at the Awesomers. I mocked them behind their backs. I allowed myself to believe myself superior, impervious to their awesome banter, their overwhelming enthusiasm, reverence, admiration and fear. And then I became a father and then my daughter became a 7 year old in second grade and she brought the word into my house. She carried it under the firewall and propagated it in our conversation. For her and her friends, everything was awesome. I tried to explain to them that My Little Pony’s Princess Celestia was truly an inspiring and admirable character. That the story was well-told and the animation quite accomplished, but that none of them, having watched an episode of My Little Pony, had found themselves sublimated with terrible reverence and personality crippling appreciation. It was no matter to them.
It was, I can see now, only a matter of time. A simple feat of repetition. It would only take a hundred, maybe a thousand, perhaps ten thousand awesomes before I began to adopt this world view. And now, I find awesomeness salting my daily conversations. It is a thing I say when I agree with someone. It is a thing I say when a conversation comes to a close. It is a thing I say when there is nothing left to say.
I tell myself I am using the word ironically but I’m not that kind of hipster. I adopt the words I use with my entire heart. And if, the word awesome is too grandiose to apply to a bag of kettle-baked jalapeno potato chips, I no longer fault the word or the people like me who use it. I merely adjust my estimation of how well-baked and salted those chips are. How terrifyingly delicious and personality-smashing those potato chips can be.
It is, I find, at 40, much easier to adjust my perceptions and experiences of the world than to bother reaching for the right word that says precisely what is needed. Much better not to persist in the fight against bloviation and rhetorical sclerosis.
And I am so much happier now that everything and everyone is awesome all the time. I no longer trouble myself remembering all those other pesky adjectives that once intimated lesser shades of goodness.
Everything is awesome now, and I am grateful it only took me 40 years to figure it out and embrace the language of absolute perfection.