Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Awe, Awful, Awesome....???

I've often wondered why people use the word "awful" to describe something terrible. Like "I saw this awful car crash on my way to work today." Or, "The food there was awful." 

In my mind, it seemed so contradictory. If we say we're "awed" by something, we typically mean we are in reverence or admiration. So why would we say "awful" when things are not so... awesome?

Time to open up my ten pound tome. {I just love actual, hold in your hands, dictionaries. There's something about those thin, fragile pages that makes me happy. What can I say? I'm sentimental that way.} Turns out this wordsmith had some learnin' to do.

awe: n. 1. a. An emotion of mixed reverence, dread, and wonder. b. Fearful veneration or respect. 2. {Archaic}. The power to inspire reverence or fear. 3. (obsolete). Dread.

awful: adj. 1. Extremely bad or unpleasant: TERRIBLE. 2. Commanding awe. 3. Filled with awe. 4. Immense. -- adv. {Informal}. Very.

For the sake of thoroughness, I also looked online. Turns out (again) my old dictionary (1994) might be a little outdated (???).

According to Merriam Webster online dictionary, the origin of the word AWE is:

Middle English, from Old Norse agi; akin to Old English egeawe, Greek achos pain.

Pain. Those Greeks were really into their drama, huh?

Then...if you go to Etymonline, here's what you'll find:

c.1200, from O.N. agi "fright," from P.Gmc. *agiz- (cf. O.E. ege "fear," O.H.G. agiso "fright, terror," Goth.agis "fear, anguish"), from PIE *agh-es- (cf. Gk. akhos "pain, grief"), from base *agh- "to be depressed,be afraid" (see ail). Current sense of "dread mixed with veneration"

And now we know.

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