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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Supplement Those Same-Old Superlatives With Awesome New Ones!

Arthur Plotnik

Arthur Plotnik

Author, editor, and wordsmith Arthur Plotnik grew sick of hearing and reading the same expressions of enthusiasm. So he decided to research and compile a volume of alternatives: “Better Than Great: A Plentitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives.”

“Superlatives confer extreme value on something, we need them to celebrate the worthiest things in our lives,” Plotnik said. “When we use the same superlatives — awesome, amazing, unbelievable and incredible — we’re not celebrating anything.”

Substituting words like “stellar” or “exalted” says much more about how we feel about something, Plotnik says.

Listener, Edison, says “I don’t like it when people say something is dumb. Dumb seams like such an inarticulate word.” While Julia Brown says the word “lovely” is “overused.”

Read more listener comments here or leave your own below!


  • Arthur Plotnik, author of “Better Than Great”

Other stories from Thursday's show
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  • dialyn

    Id’ like to get rid of superlatives that aren’t earned or meaningful along with the yawiningly unimaginative curse words that are used over and over again, interfering with the meaning of sentences by the repetition of the same foul language every three words.

  • dialyn

    Ugh, I’d also like the ability to edit my comments when I don’t notice my apostrophe slipped. 

  • Dfoto

    Awesome is way over used.  Also, I hate it when sports commentators call a players performance Brilliant.  I equate brilliant with brains not sports performance.

  • Maryedda

    One of my pet superlative peeves is the expression “Have a WONDERFUL day!”  I find it quite sufficient to be wished a good or even a nice day.  To expect every day to be wonderful is just a bit much!

    • EF Sweetman

      Boo! In such a rude world, why bash a cheerful sentiment?

  • Ravishingrandi

    My favorite Example of descriptive dance critique is ‘lil C on so you think you can dance. His praise is always borderline poetic and describes his reactions in a much better way than anyone else on the show.

  • Ruff-millers

    I helped with writing in my son’s 1st grade class last year. The teacher encouraged the students to use a wide variety of descriptive words. Awesome was one of the kids favorites. At the beginning of the year everything was “owsum” or “osum”, because (I suppose) it was more expressive than “good” or “great”. By the end of the year, after some encouragement and adding new words to the word wall, the kids expanded their vocabularies to describe activities as “fantastic” or cookies as “delicious”, when something was almost too wonderful for words they would go back to awesome.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    There are two problems here.  First, we have a tendency to exaggerate the importance of what happens in our lives.  But more than that, what do these words mean?  If I say that something is awesome, you know my opinion about the subject, but none of the details.  As I tell my writing students, be specific, and let the reader form an independent judgement.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Robin Young,

    Why not say that the conversation was educational?

  • Ncl_back

    No one will ever use these words.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      What a deflationary remark, taking away from my stratospheric enjoyment of this loquacious endeavor.

  • Nachiket

    This reminded me one of my professors in grad school saying that the word, ‘basically’ is just a noise, because of being overused these days…

  • Susan

    Am I sick of hearing people calling things awesome? AB-SO-LUTE-LY! (That’s another one)   Are Americans really so sure of everything they say? Is everything a matter of such unquestioned TRUTH that it lives in the realm of the Absolute? I am constantly biting my tongue to keep from asking, “Are you sure that there can’t be any doubt about that, that there is no chance ever that it might not be completely and always true?   :-)    Why can’t people say YES anymore? Just a simple, clean Yes. And ABSOLUTELY is so often completely out of proportion to what is being asked. “Have you gotten more that 10 responses to your survey?”  “Absolutely!”   What nonsense.   And what ‘s really perplexing is when you hear someone use Absolutely just before or after they use another overused phrase, “Sort of.”  So they talk about something “absolutely …sort of.”  Listen for it in sentences. You will hear it mainly from people being interviewed on TV/Radio; celebrities, politicians, and pundits and you will hear it a lot. 

  • Christo

    Anyone who is competent in more than one discipline is tagged a “Renaissance man.”  (I can’t remember ever hearing the phrase “Renaissance woman.”)  I like Davie Byrne, too, but just because he can write a good (Okay, great) pop song and produce some interesting artwork doesn’t make  him another DaVinci.  Similar to this is the too-easy application of the term “genius.”  Einstein was a genius.  Bach was a genius.  Bob Dylan is a pretty smart guy.

  • Lisa

    I’ve been telling everyone lately how “amazing” is the new “awesome.”    I think that a great drinking game would be to listen to HGTV and drink whenever an amazing is thrown out there.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/elizabeth.sweetman Elizabeth Sweetman

    This is awesome and I think it’s awesome to mix in awesome new words to make conversation more awesome! Unfortunately Mr. Plotnik came off as a bit haughty and overbearing in his cavalcade of alternatives to hackneyed superlatives. Nothing ends a conversation faster than a pretentious smarty-pants.

  • NWDan

    How do you add vehemence to your words?  If you want to emphasize strong feeling, be it anger, outrage, disgust or even over-the-top enthusiasm, how do you do it?  Sadly there is only one overused word that still has the punch to grab people’s attention, and you all know what I’m talking about.  That is totally f***ed up! 
    Ideas?  Alternatives?  As a high school teacher, I need something else!  

    • http://profiles.google.com/baronplot Arthur Plotnik

      Kids might like some of the foreign versions of common superlatives, for example the Spanish “asomBROso,” which has more pep than the English equivalent, “awesome.” Especially if the r’s are rolled a bit: “asomBRRROso.”  They might also have fun seeing how much the mind or brain can be beat up in belief-challenging terms such as “mind-mutilating!” “Brain-bludgeoning!” “Decapitates reason!”  Make a contest.

  • Heaviest Cat

    Thank you for this story. It was pisser!

  • SherrieN

    If I’m tired of any type of conversation I/we have a few choices–first and often easiest, walk away, next, click away if online, next start talking myself, over-talking the speaker if necessary, in a quiet, calm and authoritative voice, same topic, different words, next start laughing, next keep repeating the repetitive work(eg.: It’s awesome? Awesome!”-interesting responses generally start presenting themselves) and if everything else fails maybe a small insult:”This is tediously boring since I have no idea what you are saying and doubt you know what you are trying to say” again said in a pleasant tone.

    For anyone who has patterned their speech/writing on media sources broader exposure to the language is helpful. Shakespeare, text or in production is a wonderful place to start. For the most resistant being cast in a role in a workshop or full production can be a brain changing experience.

  • Imogen1327

    This conversation with Arthur Plotnik is very timely for me. I have been feeling lately that my vocabulary is boring even me! The words: awesome, rockin’, amazing, unbelievable as well as many other overused adjectives have begun to resemble flavorless gum chewed much too long. My jaws are sore and I hunger for new fresh flavor.

  • Zigmond Hollis

    I can’t agree more with the sentiments, even advertising is promoting this use of language these day’s, describing pizzas and hair cream as ‘awesome’. Seriously!? Also worthy of note is the recent “I know right” or in the UK saying “know what I mean” at the end of every sentence.

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