The problem with banning words

April 26, 2012

I recently wrote about linguistic inflation for Macmillan Dictionary Blog, asking self-referentially if the phenomenon was ‘insanely awesome’. John Petrie, in a comment, told me about a ‘Campaign to Stamp Out Awesome.’ The person responsible calls it a ‘nauseatingly ubiquitous (and by now, completely meaningless) superlative’. He sells stickers with this message.

Inflation is a form of semantic change. This is a very common process, yet critics tend to be strangely selective about the particular changes that bother them. It doesn’t seem to matter to awesome-haters that many people find the weakened sense of the word natural and useful, or that to call it ‘completely meaningless’ is absurdly hyperbolic – something to which another pedant might well object. Read the rest of this entry »