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Linguistic Conservatives and "awesome"
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2013/09/30
9:04am
larrfirr
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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.

2013/09/30
4:53pm
RobertB
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There is this special use of 'awesome': when something trivial is interesting: apt answer by a robot, weird dog trick, interesting movie plot twist-  then 'awesome' is whispered low and quietly with eyes wide open.

 
Still it's very much still teens' talk or adult affecting youth.
2013/10/01
4:49pm
New River, AZ, USA
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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.

 

2013/10/01
6:41pm
Erin Sullivan
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Well put, Heimhenge.

 

Eddie Izzard joked about the use of "awesome" on his live stand-up DVD Circle.  Same as the caller, he also referenced hot dogs.  Am I perhaps missing out on some truly awe-inspiring hot dogs?

2013/10/02
1:58am
RobertB
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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.

 
Many words though having spawned their novel or faddish strains, still retain their traditional usages that are firmly grounded and dominant, and which most likely will continue to be so:
 
With awesome graces,  white sharks thread among the thick vegetations.
Great hills rose out of the mist.
The campaign was a total success.
 
(So it is not true that you should doubt or mourn or stop using a word just because it  had been reinvented in some radically different forms that might not suit your sensibilities,  especially when  those forms are far detached from the original.)
 
On the other hand, there are usage strains that seem to be offhand inventions but usurp the aura of the original words, and doing so do appear to weaken or even supplant the original meanings ( perhaps with detrimental effects to the clarity and richness of the language):
 
The newly formed nation faces many dilemmas.
Wind force has increased exponentially the last hour.
It is déjà vu all over again with our budget.
 
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