I realized it this morning when I called the pharmacy to ask for a prescription refill. The person on the phone told me my medicine would be ready after 11, and I responded, “That’s awesome. Thanks!”
Then I hung up the phone and thought, “Wait – that was good service, which is nice and all – but it probably wasn’t really ‘awesome.’”
And then I thought some more, and it hit me that I’ve gotten into the habit of over-emoting in response to mundane things. “Amazing” and “awesome” are two of the adjectives that immediately come to mind.
And I’m not the only one who’s fallen prey to this tendency: A friend visited Chicago this past weekend and posted on Facebook that his trip was “awesome.” (Was it really? Or was it just relaxing and fun?) And as I was exiting the elevator, a man told a woman on my floor to have an “amazing” week. (How about just an uneventful, productive one?)
I decided to do a little research on how the over-emoting tendency happened to evolve. Here’s what I found out: not much. Linguists don’t seem to have much to say on this topic. But some trace using the word “awesome” to describe things that are not to – I kid you not – Spicoli.
Who was Spicoli, those of you not as ancient as I am may ask? Jeff Spicoli was a surfer-dude character portrayed by Sean Penn in the 1982 movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Spicoli was perpetually stoned and, in one key scene, had a pizza delivered to his high-school classroom. Spicoli was, many would say, awesome.
But I digress.
Here are some things that are truly awesome, or awe-inspiring: the Grant Canyon. Niagara Falls. Stonehenge. The birth of a child. Surviving a plane crash. The word “benign” on a pathology report.
Here are some things that are not awesome: a new package of post-it notes. A good haircut. A trip to the Amana Colonies (unless you, or someone you know, gives birth there). A piece of gum, even if it’s really flavorful. A refill of my thyroid medication.
As a younger person who wanted very badly to be taken seriously in my professional life, I was very careful about my word choices. Now, as an old, lazy person who’s confident in her ability to make a living with the use of words, I’ve ironically become careless in the way I use them personally.
When I really think about it, what gets me is that using words like “awesome” and “amazing” makes me feel silly and sort of disappointed with myself for being unable to come up with anything better.
And others apparently are disappointed with me as well, even people I don’t know: I just read that an English poet has launched a campaign to stem the overuse of “awesome” … which is great, but ironic in that the English are just as guilty as overusing the word “brilliant.” (This I know first-hand, as I just returned from an awesome, brilliant trip there.)
In an effort to remove the words “awesome” and “amazing” from my vocabulary, I’m going to make an effort to match my adjectives the emotions that the particular actions generate in me. To the pharmacist: “That’s really helpful; thanks.” To the car dealer who comes down $1,000: “That’s a relief; I think I can work with that price.” To a friend who’s hired for a new position, perhaps a simple “Congratulations; that’s great news.”
But as I mentioned, I’m lazy. And I know myself; my best-laid plans often don’t make it out of the starting gate. But if I can at least be aware enough to improve my vocabulary, maybe people will be better able to focus on what I’m saying rather than how I’m saying it.
And that, in a word, would be … satisfying.
Certainly not awesome.