On Being Awesome

How we got from awe to awesomeness

Have you heard the word “awesome” lately? It’s in our films, newsfeeds, and songs; it’s on our t-shirts, menus, and products. “Awesome sells” must rival “sex sells”—it shows up all over the marketplace, from the new Wendy’s S’Awesome Sauce and TV commercials for Crest toothpaste, Xfinity, and Wienerschnitzel to gift cards, all-purpose cleaners, and wet wipes. (For a collection of examples, see my “anthropology of awesome” Instagram account @onbeingawesome.) “Awesome” even shows up on Ann Coulter’s 2016 book In Trump We Trust, which is subtitled (ironically) “E Pluribus Awesome!”. At a time when conflict between the political left and right is intractable, both sides want to project the thought that our unity is not assured unless we are “awesome” together.

“Awesome” is clearly not being used in its traditional sense to mean awe-inspiring, or to summarize standard dictionary definitions, ins

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