The word ‘awesome’ is getting some heat lately. I’ve read many times recently how the word is overused, or seldom used in its correct form … which is primarily to communicate something both fearful and wondrous, such as a massive lighting storm, or the Titanic going down.

But it has been used more recently to denote ‘good’ or ‘cool.’ You’ll hear it in common speech a lot, particularly from kids and good old George W. Bush. Now, it seems the language gatekeepers are complaining about it, and want it to be employed only in its ‘correct’ form.

You’ll find such rants here, here and here. defines the word thusly:

Awesome — adjective
1. inspiring awe: an awesome sight.
2. showing or characterized by awe.
3. Slang. very impressive: That new white convertible is totally awesome.

The third definition is very important: Slang.

One thing the word and language gatekeepers fail to understand is that language is a living thing. It’s always changing, always growing and evolving. Semiotics is a fascinating world of study, and it proves that language is never just one thing; it is many things to many people — in fact, it has an almost infinite amount of variety and meaning and use. To say a word is used incorrectly is to misunderstand the true function of language itself.

Most of us adhere to the social contract that the word ‘red’ denotes a certain color that falls in a certain place on the color spectrum. Simple, right? But that’s only because we all say that’s what it is. ‘Red’ of course can mean lots of things — embarrassed, angry, in debt, violent, whatever.

It can also be a code word, something which gets to the heart of language usage, which is to say that words are signifiers for groups — she who gets the usage of a term is in, he who does not get the usage is out.

Thus, to say any word is used incorrectly — that’s bunk. Language is a tool, not an end in an of itself. A word means whatever you want it to mean. If your eggs are ‘awesome,’ that’s perfectly valid. If the new playground at your school is ‘awesome,’ that’s great. If your shoes you just got are ‘awesome,’ go with it.

And don’t let the language snobs tell you or anyone else what is ‘correct.’ There is no correct in language; there is only the way YOU use it.

Willam S. Burroughs was right: Language is a virus.

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