I watched an excellent documentary last night on the lunatic/writer Harlan Ellison. Ellison has written about a trillion words on a million subjects, but he is perhaps most noted for his science fiction writing and over-the-edge short stories, such as "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs." I've always found his writing (I've read only a small percentage) fascinating, honest, brutally funny, scathing. The documentary, in which he participated fully (he is a bit enamored of himself), is damn good and I recommend it if you are a fan of Ellison's writing. It's called "Dreams With Sharp Teeth."
Ellison warmed the cockles of my heart, though, when, as the documentary approached its conclusion, he encountered a fan who proclaimed that his work, Ellison's work, was "awesome."
Harlan, who, at the time, was filling a plate with food, put down the plate, looked the fan in the face and told him that no, the Grand Canyon was awesome. The Sistine Chapel is awesome. His work was not. Awesome. He begged the fan to join in the crusade to return that wonderful word to its proper place in the lexicon. Because if pedestrian things, like lunch, lawn furniture and TV shows can be "awesome," then the word means nothing. It certainly doesn't mean what it means, which is "awe inspiring." Lunch cannot, really, inspire awe. Having a fun time at the mall can't be awesome. It cannot inspire awe. Really. It can't. No, don't argue with me. It cannot.
The last time I can remember when I could legitimately have used the word "awesome" was when I traveled to Toronto in the early 2000's for a Red Sox-Blue Jays series. The Sox swept all four games, but that was not an awesome accomplishment. I didn't drive close enough to Niagara Falls to see the Falls, which I'm sure were awesome, but because I missed them, there was nothing awesome about the drive. I was, however, sitting in the third base upper boxes when Manny Ramirez, who used to be a ballplayer, drilled a sad pitch from Chris Carpenter into the fifth--the FIFTH-- deck at whatever the hell they called that stadium back then. I had never, ever seen anything like the trajectory of the ball off the bat on that day, at that moment, and I remember turning to the guy next to me, probably a Canadian because he was on the Blue Jays side of the field (I took what seats they gave me), and I said to him, "Good God in Heaven." A mammoth blast. An astonishing athletic achievement. Certainly, truly...awesome.
But when I ask somebody if they saw AVATAR and they say yeah, it was awesome...
I have an unbelievably awesome desire to leap for his or her throat and wring some semblance of true awe into his or her brain.
The word is no longer simply overused.
It is universally abused.
I would like to call a moratorium on the use of the word "awesome." Maybe for ten years. That might do it. And then, we'll all meet at the foot of the Sphinx and look up and, in unison, we can all say the word again. At that point, perhaps, the word will have returned to its proper place in the world of adjectives, and no longer will we be tempted to describe things like American Idol, a trip to Milwaukee, or Lady Gaga as awesome.
Once that is accomplished, we can get to work on the various spellings of there, their and they're.