From zero to awesome

By , David Holahan is a free-lance writer.

THE announcer on the television advertisement said if I purchased a particular car I could go ''from zero to awesome.'' I had been there already.

After the policeman pulled me over I posed the obligatory question, ''How fast was I going, officer?'' He replied dryly, ''You were doing awesome.'' Somewhat encouraged, I was emboldened to ask, ''Do I get a citation, sir?'' To which he retorted sharply, ''Don't be a wiseacre, buddy; it's going to cost you 50 simoleons.''

There are words in the vocabulary of the young of any given generation which are difficult to pin down precisely. Awesome is such a word, one that has recently migrated into certain adult circles.

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These days there seem to be so many things that inspire awe in our young people that you would think they would feel awful most of the time.

Computer systems, hats, cars, garbage-disposal units, football teams, pizzas, and just about any other conglomeration of incongruous items are lumped together under the aegis of this busy adjective.

As you read in the first sentence, this veteran modifier can also be changed into a noun by advertising agency wizards.

Twenty-five years ago another expression teen-agers used to torment their elders was ''the most'' as in, ''Hey, baby, you're the most.'' And not just babies, everything was the most. The most what? If you have to ask, don't. Some parents, of couse, had to ask, forcing their offspring to compress their lips, roll their eyes, and stare at the Milky Way while the lecture on proper English usage swirled past their rebellious ears.

A few years later, somewhere in America, a cadre of young people transformed a noun into an adjective and before you could say ''Let's twist again'' it got around. Now if a girl were ''boss'' back then, it didn't mean that she had a lot of employees. So what did it mean? Just ask:

''Dear, how was your date last night with Louisa?''

''Boss.''

''Just what does that mean, dear?''

''Aw, Mom. . . .''

Awesome is no worse and no less indiscriminate than its predecessors. It is only mildly irritating compared with ''super,'' which has slipped in popularity a wee bit of late.

For a while there, everything was super: bowls, days, lives, careers, ad nauseum. It finally got to me. Someone said that so-and-so was a ''super person'' and something inside me snapped like a dry twig under John Riggin's foot.

My polite social facade was swept away by waves of pent-up vituperative fury. ''So,'' I began, ''can so-and-so bend steel in his bare hands? Is he faster than a speeding bullet? Can he change the course of mighty rivers? Leap over tall buildings in a single bound?'' Upon the conclusion of my tirade I was alone and ashamed - even though I was technically in the right.

Like ''the most,'' ''boss,'' and ''super,'' awesome will one day pass. Something will come along to take its place - perhaps a word like punctual. ''Hey, man, she's really punctual.''

Now that will keep us guessing.

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