On Biggest Loser, contestants talk emotionally about their progress from obese to thin as a “journey.” The journey is not just about weight loss but about a change in attitude, world view, and self-perception. (The contestants on Biggest Loser also live on a “ranch,” without a cowboy or a cow, where they undergo “challenges,” i.e., contests, and are attached to the “house,” which is not a building but a group of people.)
Suddenly the word “journey” is everywhere. (This trend likely started before Biggest Loser, but I just didn’t notice.) Journeys through marriages, college courses, therapy, life. Where’s the train? I find myself asking. The footpath? The car? The space ship? Something passive about it, being carried from here to there. This idea of a journey transposes experience into a linear and metaphorical geographical progression. What about side trips? Blind alleys?
Then I think of Pilgrim’s Progress, which also describes a psychic change in terms of a journey. Nothing so new about the concept, after all. Notice, though, in the map above, that the pilgrim’s progress has many blind alleys and side trips; it also doesn’t go straight from A to Z.
This use of the word “journey” puzzles me with its proliferation, but I get it.
What happens to the people on Biggest Loser is also called “amazing.” (Actually it is. What fascinates about the show is watching human beings morph from one body shape into another.) But ordinarily when I hear the word “amazing” used in that modern sense, I roll my eyes and want to scream. A new dress is amazing. An “A” on a paper is amazing. A five-year-old is amazing because he does a “good job” of tying his shoes. The guy next door is amazing for some unsaid reason.
Because of the way my mind works, “amazing” makes me think of “dazzling,” shimmering with light. It once was applied to those things and experiences that were so out of the ordinary that they made you stand in awe.
Which reminds me of another word that has amazingly taken over the vocabularies of many – that word is “awesome.” “Awesome” once was an adjective used to describe things like mountain tops at dawn. God, if you believe in it/her/him. Large things that inspire us with awe. Things that are not us but bigger than us and make us feel small – and that’s not so bad sometimes. Certainly not a dish of ice cream or a new hair cut or a car. The use of the magnificent word “awesome” to describe the mundane goes back at least as far as That 70s Show. (I watch re-runs while using my exercise bike.)
But it is not a recent thing – precise words being slopped into ordinariness. We all know that. We will soon have another word to describe how we feel about mountain tops at dawn and extraordinarily accomplished people. Maybe we’ll call ourselves ”dumbfounded.”