Several years ago Aina and I visited Iceland. After several hours of driving through breathtaking treeless mountain after breathtaking treeless mountain, she summed it up: “Stunning but nondescript.”
I’m finding that a lot of the internet is getting that way too. There are so many incredible, stunning, moving, amazing, life-changing things to see or read about. There seems to be a culture of desperate thirst to be awestruck, or at least awestracted (awestruck as a form of distraction). Every little kid with a decent voice is “the most amazing incredible moving” etc. Every video that makes a halfway decent political point gets the hype “X schools Y,” “X totally owns Y,” “this is the one video you must watch if you care about X,” et cetera. Scenery is always “amazing.” A successful stunt is “incredible.” The number of “best X ever” videos defies probability. Any video of any person modestly injuring themselves through misadventure for any reason is an “epic fail.” It’s as if when you go to Facebook you say “Open sesame” and it turns out to be a Panderer’s Box of THE MOST AMAZING EVER!!!
And the thing is that a lot of the stuff actually is pretty awesome. But there’s so freaking much of it. And there seems to be an endless appetite for being awestruck. After a while it gets to be all the same. Awe the same. Awesame. Like open-and-say-awe-sesame.
I just happened to be looking at some published advertising and saw the word awesome on top of an image, and something behind the o made it look at first glance like awesame. I said to Aina, “I’m going to do a note on awesame today.” She said, “That’s not a word.” I said, “It is now.” We sure need it.
In truth, if you Google “awesame” you get a bunch of results. However, they’re pretty much all misspellings of awesome. You won’t find awesame in Urban Dictionary – yet. Wait for it. I can’t be the only person reaching the saturation point of “awesome.”
It’s phonetically telling that some people would misspell awesome as awesame. The vowel is actually a schwa, a reduced unstressed neutral central vowel, which we tend to think of as being written as a by default unless we know otherwise or have some pattern influencing us to think otherwise. This is why you see definately so often. There is also a tendency in at least some versions of current North American English to lower that sound to an [a] or [æ]. I know a kid whose name is Maksym whose mother often reduces the [mæksɪm] to [mæksəm] and when saying that in a more drawn-out way will say [mæksæm] – so from “maxim” to “maxum” to “maxam.” And she obviously knows perfectly well how his name is spelled. She’s not mispronouncing it; the reduced neutral vowel is just moving down and forward in her dialect. So imagine how readily people who are less aware of spelling may convert awesome to awesame.
But this isn’t about them. They’re not awesome. They’re not even awesame. They’re just people who are not very good at playing the rather wicked game of English spelling. And actually, I’m almost surprised they don’t write the word as ossum. (Some do.) After all, everyone knows that awesome rhymes with possum. (Or anyway everyone who lives where possums are a thing. Brits are another matter.) But we have mostly managed not to forget that there is awe in awesome. Something that is awesome provokes awe – that is, reverent wonder (or sometimes even holy dread). The some is the same as in handsome, winsome, lissome, bothersome, noisome, and even buxom, but we don’t really feel the connection to the word some, though there is one.
On the other hand, we also don’t necessarily feel the connection from that some to same. When I change the spelling to awesame the pronunciation changes too. And yet that some in awesome is actually from the same source as same. The old Germanic root referred to members of a group. Such members can be definite or indefinite in number – a threesome, a twelvesome, or some other sum – and they can be, as group members, the same as one another (fungible). Over time the different uses of this root diverged and so did their spelling and pronunciation.
So it’s the same, yet it’s different. It’s not some, it’s some other thing. OMG, it’s like you’re saying the same thing! Isn’t that incredible? Amazing? Awesome?
Yeah, right. Awesame.