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I first noticed surfers over-using the word "awesome." I figured that the breaking waves they saw on a daily basis really were "extremely impressive" and capable of "inspiring great admiration, apprehension or fear." I knew the word "awesome" was in trouble, however, when I brought a brown bag filled with fruit to the check-out line at Good Earth in Fairfax.

Before the young checker opened the bag, I told him, "Those are blood oranges." He replied with a slow, hearty, "Awesome." A word that was used to describe the power of the atomic bomb is now being used to acknowledge a middle-aged woman when she knows the name of the fruit she is buying.

At my daughter's freshman orientation, the peer educator reported that the pep rallies, guidance counselors, and many other aspects of high school life were all "awesome." The misuse of "awesome" makes it hard to differentiate the merely OK from the transcendent. If lockers and cafeteria food are awesome, what do I say when I stand at Sky Camp and see the setting sun bathe the tendrils of fog below in a brilliant orange light?

This April, our family visited New York City. I looked forward to a reprieve from "awesome." Awesome misuse had to be a West Coast phenomenon, like using "Not a Through Road" instead of "Dead End" for street signs.

For our first breakfast, we dined at Dunkin' Donuts, a pink-signed franchise not found in health-conscious California. I ordered my childhood favorite, a chocolate glazed, and at the last minute I decided to make my meal a combo with a large coffee. The cashier responded with an accented, "Awesome."


That's when I knew "awesome" was doomed. From coast to coast, awesome's  original meaning has been lost. I predict "fantastic," "stupendous" and "dazzling" will be the next words to be stripped of their special sheen.

"Awesome" and other vivid words should be saved for describing rare, euphoric moments of our lives. We plug through our days the best we can, and if we express our true feelings, even if sometimes they are nonexistent, we can meet upwellings of joy with sincere appreciation.

With a Perspective, I am Beth Touchette.

Beth Touchette is a science teacher and mother of two awesome teenagers.