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The Demise of Adjectives (Except One)

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The Demise of Adjectives (Except One)
by Jessica Bram

I’ve never been much of a fan of adjectives. Although to employ them as descriptors comes nowhere near the sin of using adverbs (“The road to hell is paved with adverbs”: Stephen King On Writing), adjectives are weak, at best, when it comes to describing Long Island Sound at early dawn (misty?) or a culinary experience so transporting that it must be savored with eyes closed (delicious?).   And as any writer soon discovers, to rely upon an adjective to describe personality is hopeless. Why describe a character as “warm,” when instead you can show him throwing an arm over the shoulders of everyone who walks into his restaurant?

Yes, we must always be grateful for the mighty verb.

My dismissal of adjectives doesn’t mean, however, that I was ready to say good-bye to them for good. Weak though they may be, there is still some utility to be found in adjectives, especially when one is in a hurry. They hardly deserve to be euthanized. But sadly (if I can indulge in the occasional adverb), the obliteration of all adjectives seems to be now underway, judging by contemporary conversation.

All except one. Like kudzu, the weed that has spread from the southern U.S.so fast that it now threatens to annihilate every growing thing but itself, there is one adjective that appears to have obliterated all the rest. It’s awesome.  No, I don’t mean: astonishing, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, daunting, dreadful, exalted, formidable impressive, intimidating, magnificent… or all those other formerly appreciated synonyms for the word awesome. I’m talking about that over-used, ubiquitous word itself: “awesome.”

Think about it. When was the last time you heard someone describe an enjoyable experience, beautiful weather, or inspiring sentiment as anything other than “awesome”? Or when even the most banal suggestion of a lunch date did not elicit the reply “That would be awesome”?  

Are you, like me, ready to strangle the next person who tells you that you look awesome, recommends an awesome restaurant, or reports that even though their luggage was delayed for two days on the way to Cabo, the trip still turned out to be awesome? Or tear up the promotional postcard for the house painter (I actually received this yesterday, no lie) with its glowing testimonial that begins with “You guys did an awesome job …”

As writers, we must take a stand. We must resist this public looting of the tools of our trade. Because what do we writers have,to do our jobs and to weave our spells, if not words? If a whole sub-species of that population that we rely upon to do to our work – every single adjective except for one – what is left for us?

Not long ago I emailed to see how one of my students was feeling after some minor surgery. She was a bit better today, she said. “Although yesterday was loathsome.”

I was sorry her day had been hard, truly I was. But I savored her unusual word choice, just the same.
Next time: Taking a stand for the pronoun’s objective case. Just between you and me.

April 3, 2013

© Jessica Bram 2013

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