Not actually Mary Rowlandson

“Amazing” has become my least favorite word through inflated overuse.  As the Oxford English Dictionary entry for the adjective illustrates that over the past 400 years or so, the meaning of the word has completely flipped (like awesome after it in the later twentieth century).  Whereas the obsolete definition (with sixteenth- through eighteenth-century examples) is “[c]ausing distraction, consternation, confusion, dismay; stupefying, terrifying, dreadful,” the word was clearly in turnaround in the eighteenth century, because it’s also defined as “[a]stounding, astonishing, wonderful, great beyond expectation” with overlapping examples from the eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries. 

I don’t quarrel with those who use the more modern definition (which it itself pushing 300 years old by now), but I regret the loss of the alternate meaning and especially its overuse in recent years.  I frequently hear “amazing” to describe restaurant food or a vacation experience or activity.  The word has been leached of its power to amaze, if you will.  In Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, The Soveraignty & Goodness of God (1682), she describes a brutal Wampanoag and Narragansett surprise attack on the English settlement at Lancaster, Massachusetts in 1675 in which her house was set afire; her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew were killed; and her youngest daughter was mortally wounded: 

About two hours (according to my observation, in that amazing time) they had been about the house, before they prevailed to fire it [set it ablaze] which they did with flax and Hemp, which they brought out of the Barn. . . . Now is that dreadfull hour come, that I have often heard of (in time of War, as it was the case with others) but now mine eyes see it.  Some in our house were fighting for their lives, others wallowing in blood, the House on fire over our heads, and the bloody Heathen ready to knock us on the head, if we stirred out:  Now might we hear Mothers & Children crying out for themselves, and one another, Lord, what shall we do? . . . .

Thus were we butchered by those merciless Heathen, standing amazed, with the blood running down to our heels,” 2-4.

Now, Rowlandson’s experience would certainly have been amazing.  This is the woman who eats a fetal deer in captivity and on the run from the English, and pronounces it “so young and tender, that one might eat the bones as well as the flesh, and yet I thought it very good,” after all.  And that was a good day for her!  The queso dip at “3 Margaritas”–not so amazing, after all.  (And needless to say, awesome would be an overreach too.)

What are your least favorite words and usages?

0 thoughts on “Amazing.

  1. Mindscape is fucken horrible, as is mindshare. One corpdouchespeake word I *do* like is “traction”, like “Do we have the traction to make that happen?”

    It makes me thinke of the shoes of people in a tugge-of-war game trying to obtain and maintain enough traction against the ground to pulle harde.


  2. The reason I like ‘impacted’ is because of the implication of ‘collision’- the idea that one event/idea/ whatever meets something else which has consequences, but that those consequences might be multiple, complex, scattered- and also forceful- so not a tap, but a bang. ‘Affect’ just doesn’t cut it; while ’caused’ suggests a linearity that isn’t reflected in the messiness of life (in my imaginary world of the meanings of English language).


  3. I pretty much dislike all the ones mentioned. Also, “hermaneutics,” but that is likely due in part to its use signalling the beginnings of a conversation that will be heavily laced with jargon and could be made much, much clearer.

    I do like following change in usage, though — my peeves are all rooted in changes that come from corporate/edu-/government-speak that is itself a result of poor language and vocabulary skills. So, for example, “refudiate,” which I expect will be common, colloquial US English in about 20 years. However, I *do* like “truthiness,” but that is because when Colbert coined it, he gave it a clear meaning that conveyed a particular message.

    Having said all that… Depending on the context, I may not have any problems with, e.g., “amazing,” “awesome,” or “epic.” “Epic Fail” is a wonderful phrase: I just don’t want to see it in an academic paper or on the news. But if students described Napoleon’s Moscow Campaign as Epic Fail, I wouldn’t be displeased — I’d just ask them to give specific examples!


  4. I love this thread.

    I would agree with “epic.” And also, I am irritated by the hyperbolic use of “phenomenal” and “golden” as synonyms for “good.”

    Example: “I have a six-pack and a football game to watch today. I’m golden.”



  5. Or how about the use of “good” to mean “no thank you?” As in, the server asks, “would you like some more water?” And the person says, “No, I’m good.”

    I concur with “relatable.” It’s so … Hollywood tv-pilot, or something. As in, “wow! That Anna Karenina, she’s so relatable for this target audience. Vronsky will totally give us more traction with the 30-50 male demographic, too.”

    Barf again.

    I actually lost my shit when a job candidate once expressed her fervent desire to “make literature relatable” to our students. WTF does that even mean? Good for you if your subfield might be “relatable” and relevant and 20th c. enough. But sometimes literature and history are expressly NOT “relatable.” I’m thinking here of … oh… Beowulf? Maybe the Prioress’ Tale? The Tain bo Cuailainge? Sometimes strangeness and difficulty is the motherfucking POINT of reading.


  6. It bugs me when people say something is “really unique.” I hear it all the time. How can something that “is the only one of its kind” be even more one-of-a-kind? Really?

    I had a similar experience as Mary’s milieu, while reading Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. Now granted, I was not reading it for its literary genius, but she kept using the word “incredulous” over and over again to describe just about everything. After the 33rd time she used it, I was reminded of the great Inigo Montoya when he says to Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”


Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s