Toward More Precise Language

BY Miriam Silverberg TIMEDecember 1, 2014 PRINT

I know I sound like a real fuddy duddy, but I get so annoyed at the way people speak today.

The three most overused and misused words in the English language are “awesome,” “amazing,” and “cute.”

Meet me for lunch? Awesome!

You read the whole book? Amazing!

That man is so cute!

Originally it was just high school kids who used the words for anything and everything, but now adults who should know better use them, too.

A beautiful sunset is awesome. A baby’s birth is awesome. The fact that someone agrees to go out with you is not. To be in awe means to view someone or something with reverence.

“Awesome” should not be used when you find the earring you thought was lost or the stain washes out of your favorite blouse when what you really mean is, “I’m so pleased.”

A dog walking on its hind legs is amazing. A 7-year-old who understands advanced algebra is amazing. A lipstick, no matter how flattering, is not amazing. It may be very attractive, make a great improvement in your appearance, but amazing it’s not. “Amazing” means wonderment or astonishment.

A 6-foot 4-inch football player may be very good looking, but cute he’s not.

Today women seem to have forgotten the words “handsome” or “good looking” and every attractive man is cute. Cute means pretty or dainty, adorable and small. A baby is cute, as are puppies or kittens. A grown dog is not cute. His antics might be funny or endearing, but not cute. An adult man is never cute.

People misuse “cute” with women, too. So often I will hear from a friend that I look cute.

When I’m wearing a full-length mink, carrying a designer bag, and wearing a stylish dress, this is not something I enjoy hearing. They really mean chic, stylish, or sophisticated, but somehow it’s always cute.

Recently, I was in the ladies room of an expensive hotel and an older woman walked in looking as if she had just stepped out of the pages of Vogue. A younger woman looked at her and said, “gee, you look cute.” The woman looked at her in astonishment and smiled.

The English language is a rich and vibrant one. Surely with a little thought and imagination we can find more expressive words to describe what we really mean to say.

Miriam Silverberg is a freelance journalist and owner of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a boutique publicity firm in Manhattan. She may be reached at

(*Photo of woman via Shutterstock)

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