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Top Shelf Terms: How We Use Our Words

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

The development of a language over time can provide many historical insights and depictions of how the use has changed. Currently, one trend that appears to be developing is the reduction of a word’s power by overuse. Have you ever stopped to think about the more literal meanings behind words? It’s very interesting to investigate the particularity behind a word’s use as one peels back the centuries.


When you listen for it, you would be amazed at the loaded words we ascribe to some rather trivial things. We often will not hesitate to describe things such as food or a brief experience as awesome. Let’s pick this word apart quickly; the root is awe. So the question is: really? Your trip to the gym was awesome? This bout of exercise must then have been of unimaginable magnitude, inspiring overwhelming fear and wonder, forcing the participant to their knees before its greatness.  Sign me up!


Someone recently told me about a fantastic meal they had made. Once again, the root word is the key; fantasy. So from their description of the meal, I could appropriately expect that were I to take a bite of the meal, a divine transcendence of some sort awaits me. I could expect that the meal would take me to the realm of my imagination, where all things beautiful and macabre exist beyond time and space. Pity, they lost the recipe.


We’ve all had someone tell us about the horrible day they just had. But it’s pretty unlikely that their day filled them with actual horror. No amount keys getting locked in the car, broken nails, missed buses, or rude customers could cause such terror and mental discord as is necessary for horror. Horror causes a person unrelenting emotional anguish, rendering rational thought nearly impossible, until the episode is over. Most of us will experience maybe at the most, five accurately horrible experiences. Which is just fantastic, right?


Other words have simply ceased to be used in the original manner, or certain uses have died off almost entirely. For example, terrible is almost always used to describe something negative in present times. However, terrible was traditionally applied to many things that were simply formidable, intense, or extreme in some sense. To have terrible powers would mean a great magnitude of power, not powers of poor quality.


There are many, many more words which, when dissected, require some reevaluation on their usage.  I’m not making the case that this is some kind of serious issue, but it does manage to limit our descriptive abilities.  Consider this: try and remember the last time you tried to tell a great anecdote about some amazing event to honest listeners. You probably felt like you just couldn’t inspire the same feeling in your audience, and were dissatisfied with their lack of enthusiasm.  When you previously used “awesome” on grilled cheese, you left yourself nowhere to go for truly awesome things. By constantly going for the top shelf, we often limit our ability to fully convey our messages.


If I’ve done my job, this is one of those little things that will stick in your brain, and you will begin to notice every single day. Try not to let it bug you! 



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