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Amazing no more: Give the word a rest

It's sad when you see magnificence decline into mediocrity or worse.

Muhammad Ali, unable to speak. Brando looking like a beached Pacific walrus, mumbling away. Renoir with hands so arthritic he could barely hold a brush. The word "amazing."

For too long now, I have been painfully aware of the failing meaning, diluted power and loss of essence of "amazing." "Amazing" — the most misused, bastardized, overworked superlative in the American language — is no longer valid. Oh, people might still use it ad nauseam, but the significance is gone. And when a word losses its original intent, it's time for retirement.

The final, inevitable blow came last week when a friend described a doughnut to me as amazing. Doughnuts are not amazing. They can be tasty; they can be delicious. But a doughnut cannot stop you in your tracks in wonderment, in, in, in amazement.

About three years ago, I began noticing that "amazing" had become the go-to superlative. More and more, I started hearing it in inappropriate situations. It started to mean merely "good." How was that movie? It was amazing. How was the concert? Amazing. How's the dust on top of your refrigerator? You guessed it.

Last week at a restaurant, I heard a couple use the word seven times in roughly 90 seconds to praise the food and service. If they kept up that torrid pace, allowing for eight hours of sleep, they would have said the word 1,634,200 times in 12 months. What lives of wonderment they must lead.

If everything is amazing then nothing is amazing. "Amazing" is not the first superlative to lose its power. "Great" went long ago. But then, Alexander set the standard so high, its demise wasn't shocking. For those of you who don't know, the word fizzled out in 1997 after announcer Al Michaels declared a four-yard run by Barry Sanders as great. I enjoyed watching Barry as much as anybody, but to me, you just about have to conquer Persia or at least the ancient port city of Tyre to be called great.

"Awesome" overdosed several years back. Everything was awesome. Remember that? The word went on life support and people backed off. It might never be the "awesome" we once knew, but it's making an ever-so-slight comeback.

There's a tiny chance "amazing" can regain its former vitality. Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely, given the American love of superlatives and hyperbole. We'd all have to leave the poor thing alone. Realize what it really is. Maybe start abusing other words. "Tremendous" is still a tremendous word and not overworked. "Magnificent" is still magnificent.

"Amazing" should be deployed only for the truly special, um, spectacular. I hope "amazing" gets the solitude it needs to recover. Do your part. The next time you hear it, stop the madness immediately. Explain that a once-amazing word has hit the showers.

Michael Krikorian covered street gangs and the LAPD for the Los Angeles Times. He recently completed his first crime novel, "Southside," and a children's book, "The Sunflower Who Loved the Moon."

© 2010 Los Angeles Times

Amazing no more: Give the word a rest 10/15/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 15, 2010 6:13pm]
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