“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?
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