Every generation has one — a word that means everything at that moment is great. Sometimes, better than great.
In the 1940s and '50s, there was "neat," "cool" and "hep," as in, "He's a real hep cat." In the '60s and '70s, everything was "cool," "groovy" or "heavy." A typical response to doing or seeing something really great would have been, "That's really heavy, man." After saying these words over and over again, most people got tired of them (except for "cool") and moved on to the next expression.
The '80s were a combination of most of the above, but in the '90s, "awesome" raised its ugly head and, for some reason, it won't go away.
Granted, "awesome" is a powerful word. Simply put, it means to be in awe of something profound. Moses parting the Red Sea would have been awesome. The Grand Canyon is awesome. Landing on the moon was awesome. A beautiful sunset can be awesome. If the Bucs win another Superbowl, that would be awesome. I will give you those and maybe a few more, but come on!
Ask someone how their drive home was yesterday, and you will get "awesome." A baseball player hit an awesome home run. Every other commercial on TV describes its product as awesome. A major cell phone company has its middle-aged CEO describing its service as awesome.
Recently, I called my bank's customer service department, and a nice young lady asked me to verify my name and address. After giving her the information, her response was (you guessed it), "Awesome." Imagine what she would have said if I had given her my phone number.
Even our local television news has an anchor who often reacts to the last story the sports guy says with, "Awesome."
Teenagers and younger children are allowed to overuse "awesome" because it is their word right now. Parents of these children hear it so much that they tend to use it a lot as well. When I hear adults say that their shoe-shopping experience was awesome, I assume that they want to sound like the "cool" parent. Try reversing the trend and explain to your children that there are other words that work equally as well. I know. It is not easy. Withdrawal never is.
I have a 65-year-old friend who responds to a one-flight trip up the elevator as awesome. Even when I point out his constant use of "awesome," two sentences later, he says it again.
If you are over 21, don't say "awesome" around me unless you are describing an event of biblical proportions.
Come on, America, we have many more words that you can use: "fantastic," "magnificent," "incredible," "stupendous," "breathtaking." If you have a great hamburger, try describing it as delicious, or even incrediburgable — but not awesome. If your lawn is free of dollar weeds, that's terrific, not awesome. If you didn't get audited by the IRS this year, that's fortunate, not awesome. If the Rays win the World Series … okay, that would be awesome.
The word has lost its power. If you need more proof, try listening for it during your day. You will not be disappointed.
We have to save this word. It is meant for bigger things. It is time that we came up with a new expression for the 21st century. One we can call our own. One that is a true testament to our high-tech lifestyle. One that shows our kids that we have evolved into a new dimension called adulthood.
In the meantime, "cool" still sounds pretty good.
Chuck Levy lives in Tarpon Springs.