Few words have been as devalued by overuse as awesome. Meaning 'characterized by awe,' the word has become degraded to mean 'very impressive.' Once upon a time a visitation from God was 'awesome,' as it filled you with awe; today a good breakfast is awesome, as it filled you with eggs.
John Tottenham, a British born writer and bookstore clerk in Los Angeles, is leading a one man campaign to exterminate the overuse of the word. And I support him; in the last couple of years I have become worried at the amount of cheap hyperbole that lives in my own writing, rendering my attempts to be honestly hyperbolic moot. Or worse, forcing me to find even more hyperbolic ways of praising things.
"It's boiled down to one catchall superlative that's completely meaningless," he tells the LA Times. "Sometimes I'm sitting in a crowd and I hold my breath until someone says it. Seldom do I die of asphyxiation as a result."
Tottenham has started a group called the Campaign to Stamp Out Awesome, or CPSOA, headquartered in the Echo Park bookstore Stories. He has anti-awesome stickers, is working on anti-awesome shirts, and does anti-awesome spoken word at gallery openings and hipster art events (which is already pretty anti-awesome). Tottenham seems a bit strident about it all, but he really has a point.
Awesome as a slang term grew out of Southern California's surfer culture, and it has spread globally. The LA Times reports that it's even popular in India. The fact that Tottenham is attacking the phrase from its birthplace is pretty cool. I doubt it'll take traction, but it's always good to examine our language usage and think about what we're doing to words. Like the rest of our resources, they're finite - will we be leaving our great-great-grandchildren a dictionary full of words stripped of all meaning?