I see it probably every day on social media, and it’s exhausting: Read this incredible article, or Look at this awesome picture, or Check out this amazing feat! As a writer, teacher, and editor, I am one of the people that William Zinsser called “the guardians of usage,” the sometimes good-natured curmudgeons who you dislike for correcting your grammar but who you like because we know how to spell things. And I object to the overblown language that has been made popular by quantity-over-quality internet advertisers and clickbait producers, language that has somehow been absorbed into our modern American vernacular . . .
For example, the adjective incredible means that the thing-described is so wildly out of the ordinary that it does not seem believable. Thus, it is in-credible— not within the realm of credibility. I get on the internet as much as anyone, and I have yet to see any article or poem or interview or blog post or video that was so astounding I didn’t believe it was real, that must have fallen from Heaven, that made want to me drop my fishing nets and follow.
Likewise, I have seen or read very little that was shared on social media that was awesome, which means that the thing-described inspires awe, that state of being overwhelmed and even stunned by an experience. I will admit that a few photos of natural wonders have given me pause, and every once in a while a bike or skateboard trick earns my respect— but awe? I don’t know about that. And I can promise that I’ve never seen anything awesome come from any twenty-something jackass with a GoPro on his parents’ suburban lawn who began his schtick with a wide-eyed “Hey guys, check it out!”
The final offensive term in this unholy internet trinity is amazing. Although this one gets closer to any real emotion that might result from a social media post, it’s still far-fetched. Once again, I will admit that the first time I watched one of those videos of people in squirrel suits gliding among mountains, it came close to amazing, though once I’d seen a few, they became . . . meh, do I have to watch this again?
There are other words whose use has also become aggravatingly mainstream in the Internet Age, like hilarious and great and outrageous, but they’re not as egregious as the unholy trinity of incredible, awesome, and amazing. I know that we all want to share and promote the things we like, especially our friends’ efforts, but let’s choose better words— especially you, writers. The English language is chock-full of gloriously specific and nuanced words that can describe any experience with media watched or read. Maybe that poem you read – and want us to read – was sensitive or uproarious or charming or proverbial. Maybe that article or essay that you read, the one that offered a perspective you hadn’t considered before, was insightful in its complexity or sublime in its presentation or striking in its revelations. And if you need a thesaurus, use one— none of us will ever know.
Being bombarded with these pop-culture misnomers is numbing our senses, mine in particular. Now, when I see a social-media urging to view something awesome, all I think is: I doubt it. These posts are the social-media equivalent of old TV commercials who had a guy named Crazy Eddie yelling about the huge deals in his store. At some point, the yelling became annoying, and 80% off seemed passé, rather than . . . say, incredible or awesome or amazing.