Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Too Busy Being Awesome To Be Spectacular

My friend is in grad school and is buried up to her ears in work.  I get to talk with her on average once a week (usually three times in a week, and then two weeks not hearing from her).  She leaves the school at 12:30 AM, only to return around 6:30 AM.

I am truly amazed by her.  She does enough work to keep three people busy, gets it all done, and can still crack a good joke about the whole thing.  But it is sad that I so rarely get to see her.  So in conversation, I told her, "You're too busy being awesome to be spectacular."  She laughed and agreed, and I smiled because she understood what I meant.

Those were very deliberate words.  'Awesome' and 'spectacular' are used as generic synonyms for 'very good'.  And in colloquial English, they are.  But technically (or classically), they had their own unique meanings.

Something that is awesome puts people in a state of awe.  It means that they are amazed, shocked, and speechless.  Something that is spectacular has the quality of being a spectacle.  And a spectacle is something that is seen. (Spectators spectate spectacles.)

So what I told my friend is that she is too busy amazing and impressing me (and countless others) to become particularly well-seen.  I simply used two terms with very positive connotations to describe her situation.  I got to play with multiple layers of meaning at the same time.

This is one of the things I love about language.  Because I know so much about it, I can use it in a far more powerful means.  The drawback is that only other people with that knowledge can appreciate it.  Otherwise it sounds like I told my friend that she's too busy being very good to be very good, which makes no sense.  But she did understand it and she did appreciate it, and we both smiled and laughed to know that we had this semi-secret language between us.

If you want something like that, go and study language.  Read the dictionary.  Learn that every word comes from somewhere, and that a word's meaning can be discovered by breaking it down, once you learn those root words and stems.  It really is fun.  And there are plenty of people out there who can and will appreciate it.

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