Saturday, January 30, 2010

Awesome: A Confusing Word

Most people have a grasp of when it is appropriate to use the word awesome. But what does it really mean? For our purposes we’ll stick with it being an adjective that describes an object that inspires awe. This is where things begin to unravel. The word and definition don’t seem to match up. With that definition I would think that an object full of awe should be described as awefull but I am almost positive that awful would file an infringement suit and it would be a disaster in conversation, “No no, not awful I said awefull. Of course it was great, Mikey was there. You are very dumb and I don’t want to see you ever again.”

Luckily, as spell check keeps reminding me, awefull is not a word so that friendship from above is still in tact. So how did awful come to pass? In the 1800’s a fad occurred in which words would be spelt incorrectly on purpose. For example “no go” would be “know go” and the more commonly known “all correct” became “oll korrect” (OK). Perhaps that is how we got awful out of awefull. A failed early attempt in the misspelling movement, one that likely threatened to end the movement in its infancy.

After the misspelling movement there was awful (formally awefull) and awesome. Awful meaning full of awe and awesome meaning the object contained some awe. “I wouldn’t describe last night as awful but definitely awesome.” The problem with awesome was that it is difficult for an object to contain some awe - you either got it or don’t (kid). Luckily (unluckily) the late 1800’s was a tough time so awful began to be used negatively for the most part. “That was awfully bad.” Over time awful picked up a negative connotation and the “bad” (or other negative word) no longer needed to be specified so the sentence above would be, “That was awful.” This falls in line with today’s usage. Awesome slid over to what awful had meant and the former definition of awesome was eliminated. And that is where we are today.

So yeah I’d say the origins of awesome are a bit confus….I wonder if con could be considered a loaner word meaning with and fuse means to bring together basically so confusing would mean with together or with with? Now that seems confusing.


1 comment:

The Ugster said...

I have the EXACT arguement with people all the time. I'd like to ban words like awesome, excellent, amazing... They're over and improperly used, period. "I just got my cast off today, it was awesome smelling!" "My wife just told me she was leaving for a week, it's gonna be awesome!" UGH.