HURRICANE MATTHEW & THE TRUE MEANING OF “AWESOME”
As Hurricane Matthew sweeps northwards, with Abaco in its path for the hit tomorrow, it’s an opportunity to take a look at the power and might of extreme weather, and maybe to recalibrate the word ‘awesome’ from its current diluted usage. The images used all relate to the state of play in the last 24 hours.
Satellite view at 14.00 EDT
The concept of ‘awe’, historically and Biblically, comprised emotions such as wonderment, astonishment, terror and dread. Biblical translations use ‘awe’ and ‘awesome’ almost exclusively to refer to God or to His Works. In many Biblical instances of people being awed, they not only experience extremes of emotion but also exhibit palpable signs of fear – shaking, cowering, falling down, prostrating themselves.
The perfect example of the ‘proper’ meaning of awesome can be found in Genesis: ‘He (Jacob) was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”‘ Some translations use the word ‘dreadful’ in place of ‘awesome’ for this passage – in its old meaning of ‘full of dread’, not its watered down modern meaning as in ‘dreadful headache’ or ‘dreadful nuisance’ (the same dilution that has happened to ‘terrible’).
WHAT KIND OF EMOTION IS AWE?
In 1980 a man called Dr Robert Plutchik designed a ‘diagram of emotions’ in a floral wheel format. This device visualised eight basic emotions, with eight derivative emotions each composed of two basic ones. Awe is at 4.00 o’clock, showing the extreme of the Biblical meaning as a mixture of terror and amazement (think of the reaction of the shepherds while watching of their flocks, when unexpectedly interrupted by an angel…). There’s no place in the wheel for ‘awesome’ to mean ‘I really like that photo you took’. Or, ‘your soup is delicious’. Or, ‘I am so pleased to have made a plan to meet you at Pete’s Pub’.
Language is a living thing, and the hyperbolic application of powerful words to mundane emotions or objects is widespread and unsurprising. But a Cat. 4 hurricane really is awesome stricto sensu: it is both an amazing ‘extreme weather event’, and a terrifying one, as the header image and the many images of Matthew’s progress posted online amply illustrate. The recent practice of giving hurricanes comfortable names does nothing to dispel their power or the awe they inspire. On present tracking, Matthew will reach Abaco some time tomorrow. From a safe distance, I wish everyone on Abaco and elsewhere in the target zone all the very best and a safe passage through the storm.
HOW ARE HURRICANES CATEGORISED?
FROM ASTOUNDING TO BADASS: AWESOME SYNONYMS ANCIENT & MODERN
Astounding, breathtaking, amazing, stunning, astonishing, awe-inspiring, stupendous, staggering, extraordinary, incredible, unbelievable, magnificent, wonderful, spectacular, remarkable, phenomenal, prodigious, miraculous, sublime, formidable, imposing, impressive, mind-boggling, mind-blowing, out of this world, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, amazeballs, badass
Credits: Nasa / Goes, NASA / ISS, Wunderground, Craig Setzer