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You’re Not Awesome (and Neither am I)!

Last week I was driving back from a breakfast meeting and happened to catch a bit of a CBC radio program where the hosts were discussing an apparently growing service dedicated to reminding people of how awesome they are.  At Awesomeness Reminders, it’s all about you and your awesomeness and being continually aware of this awesome reality.  For the low, low price of only $10/month ($20 outside the USA and Canada—apparently non-North Americans begin with an awesomeness deficit), you can receive a daily phone call carefully crafted to convey just how awesome you are in order to fortify you to face the challenges of the day ahead.

Here’s what it says on the website, “With Awesomeness Reminders, a real person will call you every day to tell you how much you rock. If you’re not around, we will leave you a voicemail.”  Wow.  A real person (who I don’t know and who doesn’t know anything about me) will phone me to tell me that I “rock.”  I can only imagine how meaningful this must be.  I suppose nothing boosts the old self-esteem like paying people to say nice things about you.  I mean who wouldnt feel awesome if, at the same time every day, someone who knew nothing about their character, life experience, abilities, hopes, and fears called and gave them a generic “awesomeness” reminder.  Sheesh…

But aside from the obvious silliness of a service designed to tell you nice things about yourself for money (and what the fact that such a service could even be conceivable says about our society—for some reason, I’m reminded of the soma pills designed to keep people in a blissful state of tranquil ignorance in Brave New World), one of the things that struck me as I was (incredulously) listening to this program was the simple fact that these people are lying. I am not awesome.  And I’m sorry to say it, but you aren’t either.

To say someone is “awesome” is to say that they inspire “awe.”  According to my dictionary, “awe” is “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.”  I am quite certain that I am not being overly modest in saying that I do not provoke this response in others.  And I doubt I am being ungenerous in saying that it’s highly doubtful that you do either.  We’re not awesome.  We’re just not.

I suppose that of the many sad things the existence of this service says about about us as a society, one would be that we are imprecise and sloppy employers of language.  Words like “amazing,” “beautiful,” and, yes, “awesome” are rendered meaningless and trivial when we use them to describe things that would better be described as “pleasantly convenient” or “enjoyable” or “nice” or any other of a whole host of perfectly serviceable and accurate (if less exciting) adjectives. But it takes effort to use words correctly.  As Marilyn Chandler McEntyre notes, imprecision is easier:

Imprecision is available in a wide variety of attractive and user-friendly forms: clichés, abstractions and generalizations, jargon, passive constructions, hyperbole, sentimentality, and reassuring absolutes.  Imprecision minimizes discomfort and creates a big, soft, hospitable place for all opinions; even the completely vacuous can find a welcome there.

A big, soft, hospitable place for all opinions… A place that minimizes discomfort and makes room for the completely vacuous… A place full of sentimentality and reassuring absolutes… Hmm… Sounds like a substantial portion of what is daily served up by pop culture.

So, what to do?  How do we rescue words from our fog of imprecision and laziness?  Where do we begin, in a world where we (apparently) pay to hear well-intentioned half-truths and untruths in order to prop up our faltering and increasingly needy egos?   Well, a good start would be for us to simply and consistently do our best to tell the (often unexciting) truth with our words.  And the truth is, that the overwhelming majority of us simply are not awesome.  Helpful and reassuring?  Maybe.  Pleasant, enjoyable to be around, insightful?  Sure.  Competent, kind, compassionate?  Quite possibly.  But not awesome.

Not even for $10/month.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tyler #

    “So, what to do? How do we rescue words from our fog of imprecision and laziness? Where do we begin, in a world where we (apparently) pay to hear well-intentioned half-truths and untruths in order to prop up our faltering and increasingly needy egos?”

    We read the books of English biologists. He may be a smug prick, but he writes amazingly well.

    September 24, 2010
    • “Amazingly” well? Hmm… Given the substance of this post I wonder if that’s the best word :).

      September 25, 2010
  2. Tyler Brown #

    Hahaha. Guilty as charged.

    September 25, 2010
  3. Larry S #

    Yesterday, at a resturaunt I was told that my meal order was ‘awesome’
    The order may have been ‘awesome’ the meal as pretty good but not amazing.

    Actually, I find that many resturaunt servers find my meal orders ‘awesome’

    September 26, 2010
    • I’ve noticed the same thing in restaurants. Very often I have felt like saying, “Really? You think it’s awesome that I am having the clubhouse today? I don’t even think it’s awesome and I’m the one who will be eating it. But then I always think of the embarrassed, awkward silence that will follow and resist the urge. Maybe someday… :).

      September 26, 2010
  4. Isn’t that like America? We want someone to constantly coddle us, pat us on the back and help our self esteem. We need a little shame, a little guilt and a little reality!

    September 27, 2010
    • Yes, I’m all for encouragement and affirmation, but daily “awesomeness reminders” really seem to take self-obsession to a whole new level.

      September 27, 2010
  5. Tyler Brown #

    After some further reflection I honestly do not see the problem here. Sure, using words out of their context sometimes is problematic. But, for instance when I say that a certain appetizer is divine I would be fairly flabbergasted to find out that someone actually thought that the dish was emanating from God. It adds zest to conversation, makes listening to stories more enjoyable, and rescues language from sounding stale.

    I don’t even think it is laziness at all, it is the opposite. It requires thought and knowledge to use interesting adjectives. Some become rather common, such as ‘awesome,’ but it is provably for good reason so. It is catchy for some reason or another. I know that when someone order a certain espresso drink I would say awesome, maybe not because i was in awe but i was certainty excited beyond the norm. How mundane would life be if these words were not used? To me that is much more haunting.

    September 27, 2010
    • I’m all for using interesting adjectives, and I certainly appreciate a well-placed hyperbole, ironic word choice, or whatever. I’m not advocating a dry, precise use of language that leaves no room for colour. But if everyone/everything is “awesome” then nothing is. The word becomes useless. If God is “awesome” and the fact that I sent a file to a co-worker in a timely fashion is “awesome” then I think it’s time for a rethink on how the word is used. I realize that word usage and meaning evolve over time, but I’m still resisting the word “awesome” being used to connote some vaguely positive response to the people, events, and experiences that happen to come across our path.

      The English language has a lot of great words. Let’s use them.

      September 27, 2010
  6. DC #

    personally, i’m trying to use the word, “splendid,” more often in my daily speech. maybe we could all adopt a word that seems to be rarely used and advocate for its usage in everyday conversation. what say you?

    September 28, 2010
    • I think that’s a splendid idea :).

      September 28, 2010

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