Awesome!

Not a word I use, but one I often hear.

My first encounter with the root word ‘awe’ was as a child when we described something horrible as ‘awful’. It’s synonyms are words such as:

disgusting;

nasty;

terrible;

dreadful;

ghastly;

horrid;

horrible;

vile;

foul

I fitrst encountered a slightly different usage in Kipling’s Recessional. We used to sing it’s first two verses when I was in Primary School, as part of the lead up to ANZAC Day.

God of our fathers, known of old,
   Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
   Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
   The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
   An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

More recent meaning

Earlier today I posted this tweet for my Twitter followers:

This is a question about the Australian language. When did the term ‘awesome’, become a common synonym for great, wonderful, really good etc in colloquial language? Any thoughts? #Semantics.

Here is a little of what followed. For those not familiar with Twitter, read the thread from bottom to top.

@mic_grop explained that his gif, in the gallery above was from a movie, ‘Fast times at Ridgemont High’, adding, I think the use of it in Oz followed late 70s early 80s shared surf culture.

So I researched it, and this is what I found:

A clip from Fast times at Ridgemont High, released in 1982

Surely the term wasn’t invented just for this film. The implication of the clip is that it was already used in surfing culture.

Was it’s use in Australia, as early as 1976, as one informant claims, something that arose from Australian surfers reading US surfing magazines. There were certainly a lot being published in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

This is a banner image from http://allsurfmagazines.com/

Of course surfing magazines were published in numerous countries, but the US and Australia were more prolific than most.

In beach side communities, like the one where I grew up in Coogee, most surfers were affiliated with Surf Life Saving Clubs, until the early 1960s.

I joined Coogee Surf Club in 1961, and before long had my surf rescue bronze medallion, and had become part of a surf boat crew. My path was quite traditional for a boy in one of Sydney’s coastal communities.

Around this time Malibu surfboards began to make an appearance. They were light and easily transported compared with the marine plywood long boards that had been used in surf rescue and competition up to that point.

Malibu boards were also highly maneuverable in the surf.

Some either didn’t join the Surf Club or left to pursue this style of surfing. Travel along the coast to renown surfing spots became a way of life for this group, and as it developed so did their unique lexicon. I was familiar with many terms even as early as the 1960s.

In 1965 my focus shifted towards tertiary studies but many surfers remained with this new lifestyle. Surfing language continued to develop which is probably why we have the word ‘awesome’, now used to express the idea that something is extremely impressive. I can imagine someone using it to describe a surfer negotiating a huge wave.

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