Each of us has a list of words that we think are overrated. Sharing these lists with people in my life always makes me laugh, and inevitably teaches me something about them and their approach to life and communications.
I worked for a beloved boss who would strike out the word exciting from any of our press releases or documents. I have a friend who cannot stand the word special in an advertisement, commercial or conversation. Someone in my family laughs every time a critic calls a film, painting or object important. And I will never forget the moment at a dinner party when a group of opinionated and smart friends realized that all four of them hated the word moist.
None of these words are on my list, but there is one word that had found its way onto my do-not-use list until a remarkable young woman changed my mind forever. That moment earlier this summer taught me a lot about words, and taught me that certain words just fit. Especially the superlatives.
Until this moment I had been on a quiet crusade against what I thought was a sad overuse by our society of the word amazing. It seemed like everybody was using it, and that the word was losing its savor. Every judge on a reality singing or dancing show called performances “simply amazing.” Authors, politicians and celebrities couldn’t seem to help themselves and had to call their intellectual discoveries “amazing personal journeys.” At dinner, even the smartest and savviest of my friends called dishes “amazing.” And the trend to emphasize something by creating the pithy 3-part list punctuated by periods seemed to often describe things as “Totally. Amazing. Party.” or “Most. Amazing. Date.”
Even as I write this, I am calling myself a snob. And a hypocrite for sure. And I give you every right to do the same. I know that I have typed my share of the word amazing in my writing. So why be so judgmental? After all, it’s a word. And I don’t pretend to be a grammarian and there’s no Pulitzer on my mantle, so why was this word bothering me? I found out when I was part of a special evening entitled, most perfectly, the Miss Amazing Pageant. It changed everything.
My friend Becca was a contestant in this night to honor young women who were accomplishing big things in their personal lives and in their communities, even in the face of some big physical challenges. Becca, as a leader and advocate for young people with Down syndrome, was the perfect candidate for this honor. She and her family have volunteered for countless causes, raised awareness on a national level about Downs, and has done all of it while performing on stages big and small while pursuing a college degree. If anyone was amazing, it was Becca.
I have had the benefit of knowing Becca for over two decades. So as I sat in that hotel ballroom watching her prepare for her speech and performance, it seemed so perfect that she would be part of something like this. I didn’t know the other young people in the room, but very quickly I realized that some of the same things that made my friend amazing clearly qualified them as well. They were people who weren’t going to sit by and let life tell them what they could or could not do. And they were people who had strong networks of supporters who believe in them and give them what they need to get things done. They were people who change the attitudes and expectations of everyone they meet, and care about each of them in a deeply personal way.
Every one of them, it was clear, was a Miss Amazing.
I think what had been bothering me about the word was that so few things seemed to really qualify for it. But who am I to decide? What the young women in that pageant taught me was that they weren’t going to be defined by anyone’s particular expectation. I shouldn’t define it either.
So I have decided to end my crusade against the word amazing because I have an example in my life of someone who is worthy of the adjective. That combination of:
is how I am choosing to re-define the word, just as my friend Becca has helped inspire and re-define it for me.
Some things, some people, some moments and some feelings in life are, quite simply, amazing. If people over-use the word, that’s OK in my book. This world, however it chooses to define it, needs as much amazing as it can get.
P.S. This list from “PR News” of words/phrases that irritate communications professionals makes me laugh every time I read it. I may be laughing because I agree with some of them. I am probably laughing because I use many of them. It is what it is, I suppose… Enjoy!