awe·some (ôsəm)

  1. Inspiring awe: an awesome thunderstorm.
  2. Expressing awe: stood in awesome silence before the ancient ruins.
  3. Slang. Remarkable; outstanding: “a totally awesome arcade game” (Los Angeles Times)

Am I the only person who has noticed that the word “awesome” has permeated America to its core. I first noticed myself liking the word about a year ago and actively using it. It made me feel young and fun and positive. It felt really good to use the word. Then, I started to notice that I was using it a lot and tried to cut back. So, I reserved it for those truly special moments, maybe once or twice a day. But, I noticed that everyone else was using it a lot too. Now, I hear the word in practically every conversation!

The spreading of verbal memes (“awesome”) is an amazing epidemiological phenomenon that seems important somehow. It hints at larger cultural systems in play but just outside our individual perception. It touches on one of my favorite topics: emergent group intelligence. Of course, in this case, it’s probably more of a virus caught by the emergent intelligence (humanity), than useful intelligence.

And, of course, the meme itself appears life-like as it grows and spreads, and probably mutates. But, the one interesting observation that occurred to me is that the meme/virus does provide positive feedback to the individual: I feel good when I use the word. It’s a little embarrassing and revealing to admit it, but I do. And, I am sure that all of these verbal memes must have this quality to procreate. It would be really interesting to study these memes just as the CDC studies viruses and track their growth chronologically and geographically, learn how and why they spread, and eventually die, why some are successful and others fail, etc. Just not enough time in one life…


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