Awesome Like A Hot Dog?

Reading this bit in an essay on the misuse and abuse of English grammar in tabloid journalism (in the Telegraph, 2 Sept. 2010) reminded me of Eddie Izzard’s riffing on our ubiquitous use of “awesome.”

“The main objection to most of the tabloid language highlighted above is that it devalues the currency. If somebody is devastated because his football team has lost a match, how does he feel when he gets home and finds his wife and children have been killed in a fire? …

“If one death, however sad for those concerned, is a tragedy, how does one describe the moral effect of a plane crash in which 400 people are killed? If a man who scores a goal is a hero, what term do we reserve to describe one who wins the Victoria Cross?”

Eddie:

“The universe is awesome — using the original version, the meaning of the word ‘awesome’. Not the new one … I saw an advert for ‘awesome hot dogs’ only $2.99. … America needs the old version of ‘awesome’, because you’re the only ones going into space, … and you need ‘awesome’ because you’re going to be going to the next sun to us and your president is going to be ‘Can you tell me, astronaut, can you tell me what it’s like?’ ‘It’s awesome, sir.’ ‘What, like a hot dog?’ ‘Like a hundred billion hot dogs, sir.’

We watch House Hunters on HGTV and notice that it’s not uncommon for people looking at houses to overuse one word. Most often, for a specific person or couple, every room, closet, yard, and feature is either “nice” (does that mean anything at all?)* or it’s “small,” apparently one of the worst slurs to be slung at a house, and it’s applied to plenty of spaces that in other episodes other people have described as “nice!”

*(Actually, “nice” originally — in the 13th and 14th centuries — meant “foolish”, “stupid”, “dainty”, “timid”, and even “wanton” — over time, it’s come to mean “mildly agreeable”  and even “delightful.” I think of it as a beige word, signifying nothing. Except when Onslow says it.)

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