Monday, January 19, 2009

Goodbye, President Bush; it's been "awesome"

You may recall that when Pope Benedict XVI visited the US last year, and gave a speech at the White House, President Bush greeted him afterwards, "thank you, your holiness. Awesome speech." Har har.

Last weekend, the Navy commissioned its newest aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush. At the event, President George W. Bush called it "an awesome ship for an awesome man." Hee hee.

Last Sunday, when I heard about this latest use of the word awesome on the news, something occurred to me. Whereas many people today hear Bush use the word in these contexts and think, "oh, he's tone-deaf because he's using a synonym for 'kick-ass' or 'sweet' inappropriately at a solemn occasion. This is the view of Bush seen in sketch comedy, and exemplified by Robot Chicken's "Tacos Rule." But now I wonder if perhaps his use of the word awesome is tone-deaf, but in a different way. I think he's using the formal definition of the word (quoted here from Webster:
1: expressive of awe <awesome tribute>
2 a: inspiring awe awesome task> b: terrific , extraordinary awesome time>
But there's two problems.

One, I don't think he has the gravitas to pull it off. In general, high-flown language sounds awkward coming out of his mouth. This criticism is predictable and boring, coming from a lib'rul like me.

Two, assuming this is what he's trying to do, the culture around him is unused to this use of the word. Consider the following examples I've made up, which I think would have the same effect, even if said without irony:
  • "This is sweet candy."
  • "Central American leftist guerrillas were radical."
  • "Aluminum chambers used to enrich uranium are tubular."
  • "This press release about cold fusion is completely bogus."
So, even if he doesn't mean to sound like someone who was a big partier until the mid-80s, his choice of words doesn't help.

Anyway, congratulations to Mr. Bush on making it to the end of his presidency. I'm not quite sure what I mean by that. There is a certain entertainment value I'm sure I'll miss, but thankfully we've got Joe Biden and the US Congress to fill the gap.


Jed Rothwell said...

The problem with your example is that cold fusion is not a bit bogus. See:

jarends said...

I know I use a cold fusion jetpack to get to my 9-11 conspiracy meetings. It's gnarly.

Fred said...

Dammit, Jason, don't type the words that rhyme with "fold collusion." It'll just make him come back.

And anyway, I prefer riding the dinosaurs that cohabitated with man to demonstrations of psychic surgery.

margaret said...

I think you're right in that he is using the word in the more traditional definition of "inspiring awe" is what Bush intends. I think there's another layer, however. I've heard many a born-again evangelical Christian use this term, both in sermons and in social settings, when talking about God or Jesus. Don't know how often you are exposed to this lexicon, but i always took it for granted that this is the frame of reference from which he is taking the word.