Neil DeGrasse Tyson wants 'awesome' to be reserved for science

Commentary: The astrophysicist runs into Twitter mockery from many sides, even from Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

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"Awe, no. I'm not having this word besmirched."

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Being a scientist must feel like living in a lonely corner.

As learning and knowledge are being assailed daily, offering actual evidence doesn't seem to fly so well. 

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson lives this life and fights the good, clean fight. For example, he's spent quite some time and psychological energy explaining to famous people that the Earth is spherical, rather than flat.

On Thursday, he returned to another of his favorite angsts -- the casual use of the word "awesome."

"In my day, the word 'awesome' was reserved for things like curingpPolio and walking on the moon, not for food or TV shows," he tweeted

I'm not sure the use of "in my day" was wise. It carries a certain implicit admission that Tyson's day is passed. 

Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, Twitterers pounced on the man of erudition.

Writer Robert Wright even earned Tyson's admiration for his putdown.

"Star Talk" is Tyson's radio show, on which he tries to teach the world about itself.

Vanity Fair writer Maya Kosoff joined in, drily. 

FoxNews.com's Stephen Miller noted that Tyson had tapped on this drum before.

But perhaps the most painful retort -- or most awesome, should you admire it -- came from dictionary and noted Twitter troll Merriam-Webster.

I have enormous sympathy with Tyson, to whom I reached out for comment but didn't immediately hear back. 

I'm sometimes awestruck with how the word "awesome" has come to mean, well, very little. 

These, for example, are conversations I've actually heard.

I'm going out for a burger now.


Did you see what Britney Spears said on Twitter?

Yeah! Awesome, wasn't it?

Who's the best film director ever?

Awesome Welles.

I know that time damages all things. I fear, though, that "awesome" has drifted into the same linguistic areas as "excited."

It's almost compulsory in the US to be "excited" about something. You can't merely "look forward to it." So relatively mundane things have to become "awesome," because that way everyone will think we're having an exciting life. Every day.

As for curing cancer or landing on Mars. Well, that would be nice, wouldn't it?

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