The other day I heard that the word “awesome” has been declared the official replacement for the word “cool.” I believe by the Wall Street Journal. In other words, “awesome” is the new “cool.”
Duh, or should I say, “no shit,” which I think replaced “duh” a long time ago. Awesome might be the single most overused word in the English language, and has been for some time. As such, “Awesome” has lost much of its awesomeness. Where once it stood for once-in-a-lifetime, amazing occurrences it now meekly replaces “how about that?” or plain old “good.”
Ever since an old friend and work partner, Mike Coffin pointed out the overuse of “awesome” in a blog several years ago I’ve noticed the word used everywhere by everyone detailing everything from a good hamburger to a client meeting that didn’t suck.
How the mighty have fallen. Awesome used to mean and should still mean extra innings in game 7 of the World Series. Awesome is a Force 5 tornado or devastating hurricane. Awesome was when Man walked on the moon for the first time and only the first time. Now “awesome” has been stepped on more times than Tijuana heroin.
I try not to be guilty of overusing and misusing this word. But I do. It’s become like a nervous tick, in much the same way words like “basically” and “like” are. We can’t help it. Everything not awful is awesome. At least we’ve removed the exclamation point, which used to be appropriate. We had to. “My salad is awesome!” just doesn’t work.
Though similar, this regrettable phenomenon is not quite the same as words or phrases turning into cliché’s. There are infinitely more of those polluting our conversations. Can you say “close the loop,” “touch base” or my current peeve, the ubiquitous “really?” Actually, “really” might be entering into awesome territory. We’re using it to mean everything from “wow” and “no kidding” to a sarcastic alternative to “shut the f–k up.”
By way of example:
“This blog post was awesome.”
You know words have jumped the shark when they start appearing in commercials. Listen for them. Copywriters default to these words, arguing it’s how people talk. I suppose but I still think it’s lazy.
Let’s hear it for those annoying phrases we’d like to see gone. (Now, if only we’d stop creating them!)
November 16, 2009
“You said it not me.”
Recently, I came across a list of “annoying phrases we’d like to see gone.” Unfortunately, I can’t recall who the “we” is. My apologies. Lists are ubiquitous in popular culture. Top ten. Bottom ten. And everything in between. We love our lists!
On this list I recall one phrase in particular. It happens to be a phrase I like and use and, honestly, would be sad to see go away. The phrase: “perfect storm.” For the record, a “perfect storm” is when circumstances collude forming an ideal environment for a particular event or phenomenon. The phrase is based, of course, on the best selling story of an ill-fated fishing expedition caught unawares by a terrifying storm.
I like this phrase. Adore it even. So I was saddened to discover it on a list of things we can do without. To me the perfect storm is an edgy, poetic and timely way to make a certain point. Or at least it was!
Funny, I can’t recall any other phrase or expression that was on this list. But there is one I wish was: the hackneyed summation clause, “at the end of the day.”
I once had a boss (who shall remain nameless) that used this expression every time she spoke. It drove me bonkers. I became obsessed. In meetings, I would wait apprehensively for her to utter those words. I did not have to wait long. At the end of every comment she said it: at the end of the day. She was like a parrot: Bawk! At the end of the day! Bawk! At the end of the day!
Granted, part of my problem was with the messenger. But to coin another hackneyed phrase, What are you going to do?
I bring all this up because advertising copy often employs, and sometimes even introduces, such phrases into the lexicon. I was part of the team who launched “Not your father’s Oldsmobile.” A week doesn’t go by where I don’t see a variation of this line. Has it worn out it’s welcome too?
I make it a point to avoid such catch phrases. I once thought they implied ignorance in the user. I’m not so sure anymore. I know plenty of very smart people who are stuck on certain statements. We all know people who overuse words like “like” and “you know.” Just as pervasive are the adverbs “basically” and “frankly.” I tend to think we use these banal terms to buy time when we’re speaking, like, you know, to get our thoughts in order. I also notice people applying them when they’re speaking to an audience, when such quirks are least desirable. Unfortunately, nervousness tends to breed the use of clichés. We get anxious. We want to say just the right thing. And we can’t. The perfect storm.