Awesome, Brilliant, Perfect

I do not shy away from using superlatives. Instead of, “thank you, that would suit my taste nicely,” if someone offers me anything that pleases me I’m generally much more likely to blurt, “perfect!” even though I know perfectly well that almost nothing in this universe is in fact demonstrably perfect. Quite the contrary, I should think.

But I do get a bit tired of hearing extreme words bandied about with such frequency in less-than-worthy circumstances that they can quickly become meaningless. If I am trying to pay anyone a compliment, it would sadden me to be unable to find a single proper turn of phrase worthy of the occasion because all of the fitting terms are so watered down and hackneyed by then that whatever I say will end up sounding like sidelong sarcasm. I hear people described as geniuses often enough that it would seem my own modestly strong intellect is actually appallingly lowbrow in comparison with the general population’s much more impressive IQ average. Even calling people brilliant, unless they’re visibly beaming with phosphorescence or incandescence, is probably overdoing it; most of the time I’ll bet it’s something that a fine yet ordinary person did or said or thought in a specific instance that was brilliant, shining so brightly in part precisely because of its having appeared in the setting of its less sparkling human source. Isn’t that spectacular enough? Most of us never get to think, do or say anything wildly impressive and distinctive in our entire lives, so why not appreciate the rarity and beauty of each occurrence of such brilliance without flattening it out through excessive flattery.

Awesome” is one of my most mourned of these half-dead words. The popular practice of calling all good things Awesome not only tends to defy the full meaning of the word as breathtaking, wildly impressive, and awe-inspiring, but makes it sound fatuous and empty to call anything genuinely deserving the title Awesome. I was reminded of this the other day when, on the drive home, I was startled to see what looked like a four-meter-tall stalk of asparagus growing in a neighbor’s front garden, right by the road. It was the flowering spike of a ‘century plant‘—a magnificent blue-leaved agave of the sort that grows to rather massive proportions in its native climates (Texas included), though only for about 1 to 3 decades rather than an actual century. The centennial reference is to the habit of this beautiful but spiny plant, in that it bears, only once in its lifetime, such an impressive tree-like stem as this that can sometimes reach eight meters in height, and when it’s reached its peak it bursts, almost frighteningly quickly, into a firework of magnificent, prehistoric looking yellow flowers, and then dies, leaf rosette and all, with the exception of whatever offshoots it has meanwhile nursed to, quite literally, supplant it.Century Plant

And let me tell you, the sight of one of these beautiful monsters rocketing into bloom in my very own neighborhood is not only tremendously surprising, it is awesome. It is a rare and showy natural oddity and worthy of jaw-dropping, gasping, stomping on the brakes very suddenly, awe. So I’m here to tell you, if you weren’t already fully aware of it, that I have no hesitation about using any and every superlative I can dredge up when I think the occasion calls for it. I’ll keep trying to be more accurate and varied in my terminology so as not to denude the language of its full use. But, admittedly, I’ll keep falling down on the job like most others do. I’m not perfect, after all.

37 thoughts on “Awesome, Brilliant, Perfect

  1. A great post Kathryn, and Im right with you on all of this. “Awesome” and “amazing” are the two that niggle away at me most. Everything here in the UK is amazing at rhe moment, for some reason.

    It’s such a difficult one to negotiate because as everyone uses these excessive adjectives it starts to seem inadequate simply to say something is very good; it seems watered down. Anyway your post is definitely very good!! 😊 (oops! Just re-read my comment – maybe I should have said “very good” at the beginning instead of “great”! Help!!!! 😄

    • It *is* complicated, isn’t it! Tough enough to find the right words for the occasion without having to constantly second-guess our choices as well. Sigh. Good thing we can recognize our fallibility and laugh at ourselves from time to time, at least. 😉

  2. I am terrible with words. I try to express myself through my photos because, well, it’s a challenge responding uniquely to people who compliment my photos. It must seem weird when I post a photo because I *do* try to affect people’s emotions and show my own but then when they leave a comment…I mostly say “thank you!” or when I post on someone else’s I say “awesome!” Even though I consider myself smart, I hate typing words, lol. I really do. Great post. Makes me realize how deficient I am in this area!

    • That’s not deficiency at all. Your very awareness of the issue, the thing that makes you willing to worry over what to say and be frustrated that you dislike typing enough to dread working up longer comments—that all says you’re language-*smart*. Your posts confirm it. Your photographs, of course, *are* easily worth a thousand words (or ten) pretty much every time. 🙂

  3. dude, this was awesome!

    sorry, I tried to resist the urge, but as you said, no one is perfect 🙂

    I would have loved to have been sitting beside you in the car when you happened upon that attention-grabbing century plant … oh wait, I almost was, considering that you were kind enough to share a spectacular photo … okay, maybe “spectacular” is taking it too far … perhaps I should have said that you were kind enough to share a “realistic rendition” of the century plant

    oh, who am I kidding? this was awesome, and the photo was spectacular 🙂

  4. I love this post, Kathryn! 🙂 When I compliment, or comment on, someone’s social post, I’m often grasping for words that aren’t “the norm”, because I see the awesome’s and amazing’s and beautiful’s and fantastic’s way too much. By the way… I get this feeling every time I comment on one of your blog posts! 😉

    • That is altogether too generous of you, Carolyn, but I’ll take it anyway. I’m not above stealing honors. 😉 Also, stealing ideas, which is why I love stopping over at your place for inspiration whenever I can. 😀

  5. I wrote a big long response to this on my Windows notepad earlier and the screen stuck. I hope it’s not broken. Suffice to say I agree with you and I need to stop saying awesome.

    • Ah, technology: now *that* is awesome. And sometimes, just awful. 😉 I don’t think those are all bad words, not by a long shot, just that it’s useful to broaden my vocabulary at every opportunity and not find myself too limited by habit.

  6. Wow! This post is awesome, incredible, amazing, fantastic, unbelievable, insanely wonderful, and very unique! Okay, sarcasm aside, it’s a good post. I think good is a “perfectly” good word, and it sounds like you do, too. good for you.

  7. Guilty as charged…’Awesome’ is still my favorite 🙂
    Eating at favorite restaurant recently, the bus boy cleared the dishes and asked how it was. I answered with something like “Fabulous!” He smiled and said, “That’s why I like you guys…most people just say ‘fine’ and move on.”
    That agave, though? It needs every superlative you can throw at it…

    • With your splendid stash of linguistic gems, I never worry that you’ll get mired in repetitive use of any one word. I can come to your blog and know I’ll find scintillating refreshment every time, serious or not. Thanks!

  8. Hi Karthryn,
    I don’t know where to begin, but say it’s a “pretty darn good post”. And fun, clever and paradoxical. I too love to use superlatives and yet wince when they are used so much as to become meaningless. It’s kind of ironic that you visited my blog and weekly series called “Awesome Stories”. I hope I live up to the word! Thanks for following my blog. blessings, Brad

  9. English is a language of borrowed words, chiefly influenced by Latin, French and Germanic roots with a smattering of Cantonese and Sanskrit thrown in for good measure. 🙂 It has been evolving from earliest times and is rapidly becoming a language that will change with each passing generation now. Hopefully our great grand children will still be able to understand us.

    • So well said! I’m finding that both at home and when traveling I’m more likely to be surrounded by a marvelous melange of languages and accents than any one truly dominating, and I find it pleasing. Something tells me that the ability to physically and virtually travel so easily and rapidly now will see an ever-increasingly speedy evolution of any and all of our languages. I would love to think that if languages become more easily integrated, then perhaps we may gradually be able to think more communally and live more gently with each other as time passes, rather than the opposite. I hope! 🙂

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