This post is awesome. This blog is awesome. Videos of cats? Awesome. That new web app that lets you trade socks with people is also awesome. But what does it mean for something to be awesome? Recently, nothing. The application of awesome to every context in which the author seeks to generate excitement has caused it to lose any meaning it once had.
While using a word like awesome has a sort of memetic appeal, and may be superficially justifiable, it is a poor substitute for a proper descriptor. Originally used to describe something that inspires awe (frequently seen in spiritual writing), it has been cheapened to mean something that is vaguely interesting or novel. There are few times when I feel like Urban Dictionary really gets it right, and this is one of them–the top definitions reference the fact that it has degraded to an overused, meaningless filler word.
But awesome is not the only victim of the march towards a deprecated vocabulary: profanity has suffered as well. It’s important to note the obvious difference between the two–profanity is (or was) offensive. Casual use is generally considered appropriate in the company of friends, but not with acquaintances. The recognition of this is important because it crops up as a straw-man argument every time a plea for variety is made. I don’t want you to stop saying fuck because it’s offensive. I want you to stop saying fuck because it’s boring.
While the beating of awesome seems to be slowing, I fear that it’s only because a new horse has been chosen. Beautiful seems to be trending, but only time will tell. Remember that, when you communicate, your goal is to convey information. Awesome no longer conveys a sense of awe, but it does convey a sense of (superficial?) excitement, or disappointment, depending on where you sit. Profanity may convey a sense of camaraderie, but supplies little other information. Consider the ideas and emotions you want to communicate and choose your words with care, keeping in mind that repeated use of a word in a certain context can cause the word to adapt.