Out of the darkness, a story. Not quite Tahrir Square, but stay with me. On 30 December, Lake Superior State University released its annual "List
of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness". Top of the list for exile was, you've already got it, "amazing".
A little background: in 1975, the Lake Superior State University public relations director Bill Rabe and friends came up with the idea of word banishment at a New Year's Eve party. (Think it through: there you are, beer in hand, getting a little woozy on the dance floor, nearing midnight, and old Bill Rabe wheels in with his big idea: "Guys, guys, I've got it - if there was one word you could banish for ever, what would it be?!" Cue record screeching off the turntable, a room full of killer stares and Rabe coming rapidly into contact with a closed fist. Still, I would have stuck by him. Nothing says party like a word game.)
Anyway, 37 years later, the list is still going, an annual media event keenly anticipated by morose journalists trawling for news on deadened January days.
“People use 'amazing' for anything that is nice or heart-warming. In other words, for things that are not amazing," complained Gitel Hesselberg from Haifa, Israel, in the LSSU press release. "Hair is not 'amazing'. Shoes are not 'amazing' . . . I saw Martha Stewart use the word 'amazing' six times in the first five minutes of her television show. Help!" cried Martha Waszak, from Lansing, Michigan. "Banish it for blatant overuse and incorrect use . . . to stop my head from exploding," implored Paul Crutchfield from Norwich.
Never have so many pedants been united in a singular cause. Poor amazing. Overuse is one thing, but I don't have much truck with the "incorrect" accusation. We're no longer living in the 13th century, I'll have you know, Paul Crutchfield, when amasian meant to "stupefy or make crazy". Words evolve, like everything else. But if you insist on being all literal about it - have you seen Cheryl Cole's new shoe collection, Martha Waszak? Those things are amazing - stupefying in their hideousness, crazy-making in their heel height. I'll give you the hair point, though. Hair is not amazing, not ever.