Friday, May 26, 2006


The definition of a word changes over time, but parts of it never cease to exist. The main principle of the word remains, while the rest of the definition evolves as generations change. Although, never lost, the original definition of a word usually becomes forgotten in the "new era". When used in the English language, many words will arouse a different meaning for different people. The definition of the abstract word “awe” may have evolved, but the power behind the word still remains today. The word “awe” represents the state of inspiration, which paralyzes the sense of emotion in individuals, groups, or nations.
In order to understand the evolution of a word and its meaning, one must understand its origin. Originating in the 9th century manuscript, the word “awe” meant “to inspire one with fear, dread, or terror”. In languages across the world, this particular definition became well acquainted in everyday speech. In Old Icelandic it took the form agi and in Old English, the form ege. The Early Middle English finally replaced ege in the 1400’s by the form of “awe”. (The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology) Achieved by William Shakespeare in several of his plays, “awe” Appears in its original context. In his play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff, speaking of Ford, says: “I will awe him with my cudgel it shall hang like a meteor o’er the cuckold’s horns.” Deliberately wanting to inspire Ford with the fear and terror he desires, Falstaff, displays the original meaning. In one of his most famous plays, Julies Caesar, Shakespeare captures the essence of the word. Brutus had discussed with Julies, his outlook on loving the name of honour more than the fear of death. Julies, replies: “Well, honour is the subject of my story. I cannot tell what you and other men think of this life; but, for my single self, I had as lief not be as live to be in awe of such a thing as I myself.” (Columbia Encyclopedia) In spite of his love for honour, Julies elaborates his story of honour to Brutus. Telling Brutus, that even though he can’t share the opinions of others, he wouldn’t imagine being in fear of himself. Shakespeare amongst many others capture the original definition.
As the word has evolved, other words have developed from the root “awe”. The word “awesome” appears in panel discussions, a whole decade, and movies. “The tendency for people to use awesome was for simple Inspiration.” (A panel convened by the Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage) Panel members discussed the use of the word awesome, and the overuse it gets in today’s generation. In the 1980’s, the phrase “awesome dude” wasn’t unheard of. Whether sarcasm or in total seriousness, “awesome” in the 80’s was the most used phrase than in any other decade. In the end of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, after Judge Reinhold cold-cocked a liquor store bandit, Sean Penn uttered the word awesome in total amazement.
In 2003, the United States came to a decision to attempt the act of paralyzing another country through inspiration. Thus, Operation Shock and Awe was born. “The mission was to decapitate the government, destroy critical buildings and disrupt military communication with minimal civilian casualties—a tough order in Baghdad, a city of five and a half million.” (Inside Shock and Awe, Bijal Trivedi, National Geographic Channel) The United States intended to put the Middle East government in a state of “awe” or inspiration in order to end war as quickly as possible with the fewest amount of casualties. Meanwhile, inside the borders of the U.S. Operation Shock and Awe paralyzed the Americans in a different manner. The name gave America a sense of power. To their total shock, the Americans sat and watched in a sense of amazement, paralyzed to the televisions, radio, and newspapers, to get lost in the emotion of the war and its news.
As time goes by, a word’s definition evolves, while the power behind the word still remains. The abstract word “awe” began as an inspiration of dread, fear, or terror, and now, it represents the state of inspiration, which paralyzes the sense of emotion in individuals, groups, or nations. Through its origin, its evolution, and its history, the word “awe became that force that causes one to lose sense of emotion, and descend into a state of amazement or wonder.


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