Sometimes I fantasize capping* otherwise innocent people who use the word awesome to describe piss-ant phenomena like the grooviness of their athletic shoes, the merely competent performances of tweens at recitals, or even the ho-hum occurrence of a flight being on time.
The word, as you may have forgotten, used to be reserved for extraordinary occurrences like a volcano rising from the sea or the aurora borealis strobing above a winter horizon. For whatever reason, awesome’s sibling awful has remained immune to hyperbolic overuse. I guess it makes sense that human beings wouldn’t want to jack up merely unfortunate events into the realm of tragedy the way we do mundane matters into the realm of apotheosis.
Hmm, these tomatoes are rather tasteless.
Oh my God, dude! That’s awful!
This Late Empire compulsion towards hyperbole is stripping language of meaning, which bodes poorly for a culture with really serious problems that demand precise articulation of nuanced parameters.**
*With a low-caliber derringer that would merely result in a ‘flesh wound.’ After all, I do practice Buddhism.
** I’m talking, apocalyptic tsunamic horrorshow problems like athletes taking steroids and traffic backups on Bees Ferry Road.
Think of how many times lately you’ve heard the word ‘hilarious’ to describe something that wasn’t even all that amusing. Almost always the superhyperbolification is delivered in a deadpan voice that might be rendered “THAT is hilarious.”
For example, I recently shared with colleagues the Bataan Death March frustrations I suffered a few years ago when I drove my schizophrenic aunt from her facility to a lawyer’s office in Summerville. Our mission was to sign some papers disentangling the gordian knot of my late uncle’s estate in which he left half of his house to his live-in girlfriend’s three Tweetle-dee-dum daughters while the deceased live-in girlfriend had left a third of her house to him.
At any rate, it was to be a long day that included rushing to the bank between classes to lend the estate two grand to buy off the ravenous daughters; picking up said schizophrenic aunt from said facility on Dorchester Road; picking up aged mother from Tennessee Williams Estates; driving to the lawyer’s for the melancholy transactions; driving to the CVS so S.A. could pick up toiletries; dropping her back off at the facility but then returning to my place of employment to attend a “milestone dinner” where I would sit and eat and chitchat at a table with the parents of 8th graders anxious about the transition from adjacent buildings, i.e., from the Middle to the Upper Schools; and finally leaving there for my book club, normally an enjoyable experience, though this night’s topic of discussion was Eugene O’Neil’s The Iceman Cometh, a play that is about upbeat as Chopin’s “Funeral Dirge.”
All in all, I was to spend fifteen hours away from the shelter of my home and the bosom of my family, not exactly a tour in Afghanistan, but irksome nevertheless.
When I went to pick-up my aunt – let’s call her Blanche – she was sitting on the front porch of the facility with a couple of wheelchair bound residents. I beckoned her to the car, but she hollered that I would have to sign her out. “Let me park then,” I said, getting ready to shift from neutral to reverse.
“No,” she said. “It’ll only take a second.”
Here, she was exaggerating. It took at least two minutes, more than enough time for my car to roll down an incline and smash into another car parked along the curb.
As I surveyed the damage, Blanche suggested we leave the scene, but, of course, I went back in and tracked down the owner of the car, exchanged insurance information, and then behind schedule, finally began the dismal journey down Dorchester Road in the rain.
All in all, things went smoothly at the Lawyer’s, though I was a bit distracted wondering how much the wreck would add to the two grand I had bestowed on the estate.
On the way back, Blanche asked me what I thought about Obama, and I gave her my 3.5-star review, but then she said, and I quote directly, “Obamacare terrifies me.”
Let’s say I wasn’t in a good mood, let’s say that I blamed Blanche for my accident because if it hadn’t been for her I wouldn’t have been at her facility on a Tuesday afternoon, and if she hadn’t suggested that I leave the car running in front of the facility, I would have found a parking place and avoided the accident.
“For Christ’s sake, Blanche,” I said in exasperation. “Has it not occurred to you that you haven’t had a job in forty years? When’s the last time you’ve written a check to anyone? Who do you think pays for the roof over your head, your meals, your prescriptions? Good God, woman!”
I shared with my colleagues – who, like you, were suffering through this account – that I felt like stopping the car and literally throwing Blanche out onto the street.
“THAT is hilarious,” one of them said.
The truth is that we need hyperbole to spice up our mundane existences, and throughout the above narrative, I have had to strike through inclinations to inflate (and left in the gordian knot metaphor); nevertheless, I do wish that we would not use the same degree of astonishment when describing this: