Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Awesome or Awful?

I was just typing an e-mail to my sister, and I paused as I typed the word "awesome," contemplating the meaning of this word that is used so frequently in everyday slang. I am not a fan of slang, although I do use it jokingly on occasion.

Have you ever pondered the derivation of the word "awesome." Some-Awe. Most people in today's culture really mean "awe-full" or rather "awful" when they say awesome. If one speaks of something as being awesome, rarely do I think they are referring to being in a state of pseudo-aweness; rather they are indicating that they are full of awe.

As a Christian, I say God is awesome, but God inspires more than just pseudo-awe in me. More correctly, I am full of awe when I ponder Him. Perhaps the words of the praise chorus "Our God is an Awesome God" should be changed to "Our God is an Awful God." I do not mean that in an irreverent sense; our culture has narrowed the definition of awful just as it has the definition of awesome, so it seems irreverent or negative to describe anyone with the adjective "awful."

Dictionary.com lists these three definitions among its entries for the word "awful":

Commanding awe: “this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath” (Herman Melville).

Filled with awe, especially filled with or displaying great reverence.

Formidable in nature or extent: an awful burden; an awful risk.

I wonder how many other English words have hidden meanings that have long been forgotten or changed.


Anonymous said...

Wow, great post :) This is Deb T from Homeschool Alumni, btw :)

Adrian C. Keister said...

Excellent! I had been aware of some of these issues ever since the Red Trinity hymnal had "How Sweet and Awesome is the Place", which just doesn't ring true to me. I prefer the older "How Sweet and Awful is the Place," from the Blue Trinity hymnal.

In Christ.

upwardclimb said...

Amen! Good post. :) I found your site throught Homeschool Alumni board, I'm "Upward Climb".

Susan said...

Glad to see some fellow Homeschool Alumni :).

Reply to Adrian:

Interesting you should mention hymn variations. I was just lamenting a few days ago to my mom that our family's hymnal Hymns for the Family of God sometimes alters the original words to classic hymns.

"My sin, O the bliss" was changed to "My sin, O the joy" in It is Well with My Soul, for example. As a traditionalist this bothers me exceedingly!

I am not familiar with the hymn you mentioned, as I was raised in contemporary worship services (that is a topic for another post!) and my hymn repertoire is limited to the "classics", but I do have a copy of the old blue Trinity Hymnal, as a reformed Christian of the Presbyterian variety :). I looked up the hymn you mentioned, and sure enough my copy uses "awful." I will have to play that on the piano tomorrow. To bed for now :).