In regards to the man who called your show to complain about the use of the word “awesome”. You were very nice and understanding with him. If it was me I would have given him a tongue lashing. People who complain about how young people are misusing the language should consider, first, that the way young people talk is probably going to be the way everyone talks in the future. But more importantly, remember what it was like to be young. The caller said he’d prefer to say “great” but when I was a young person, back in the 60s and 70s, the older generation said we used that word too much, just like “awesome” is used now. At one time great meant very large or very important “The Great Migration” “Alexander the Great” etc. not a fairly general comment of approval.
The first principle of historical linguistics is that living languages change, otherwise we’d all be speaking Anglo-Saxon, or even Indo-European. Some words become more general in meaning, “thing” originally meant an assembly. Some become more specific, “deer” originally meant any animal.
Oops! the topic should say “conservatives” not “conservates” which sounds like something you put in jars for the winter.
larrfirr said: The first principle of historical linguistics is that living languages change, otherwise we’d all be speaking Anglo-Saxon, or even Indo-European. Some words become more general in meaning, “thing” originally meant an assembly. Some become more specific, “deer” originally meant any animal.
Grant would call this evolution (and acceptance) of the use of “awesome” a matter of descriptive linguistics rather than prescriptive linguistics. So as you observed, language changes in spite of what the dictionaries might currently say. Back in the 60s, we’d use the superlative “cool” or “groovy.” I believe that was followed by “rad” (for radical). Then there was “bad” (meaning good). Many others have been in vogue since then, but these days it seems to be “awesome.” I agree that it’s probably overused and losing its original meaning … few things truly inspire “awe,” but that’s the way it goes. No tongue lashing is needed, imho.
By the way, I did not know that “deer” originally meant “any animal” so I had to check it here. You are indeed correct. Thanks for that interesting insight.
There are 2 aspects to sentiments about novel usages that might have been too conflated in this discussion: The disapprobations against the fads (such as by ethnic or youth cultures), and the concerns over the upholding of traditional usages.
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