Lack of good adjectives today just isn’t cool
Language is a funny thing. Supposedly, I’m good at using it. Supposedly, I understand not only the basic rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar, but the more subtle nuances of tone and style. Supposedly – at least, this is what the test scores showed back in high school – I have a hell of a vocabulary.
If this is the case, then why, when I enjoy something, can I describe it only as “cool,” “sweet” or “awesome”?
This is the curse afflicting me and many of my peers. Our adjectives seem to be wearing out.
Oh sure, our language-related problems don’t stop there. I mean, I call up my friend Jon, and he goes: “Like, you were right. I still think ‘Illmatic’ is, like, a great album, but, like, Jay-Z’s flow is, like, so on, on ‘Reasonable Doubt,’ y’know?”
And I go: “Yeah, like, Jay-Z and Method Man, like, inject more, like, personality into, like, their rhymes than anyone else, except maybe, like, Dr. Dre when he’s, like, really, really on, y’know?”
And we both work at newspapers. But it’s just how we learned to go. Speak, I mean.
The adjective issue, though, is especially unnerving, because the few descriptors we have left are those that survived an epic Darwinian winnowing sometime during the early 1990s. In the late ’80s, adjectives abounded. Things were radical, or just plain rad. Or gnarly, dude. Or most excellent, or – on a less positive note – even grody to the max. They were, thanks in part to Will Smith, fresh, dope, stupid – in a good way – and phat.
Something happened, then. Irony and Kurt Cobain came along, or something, or maybe we realized how, um, stupid it was to describe things we liked as “stupid.” And we stopped using most of those words.
Which left us with cool, sweet and awesome.
It shouldn’t be a problem. Those noble adjectives that died in the early ’90s hadn’t been around for that long anyway. My parents and grandparents got along just fine, and they didn’t have sweet or awesome and had to make up cool. (Leading one to wonder who used that word first. Gary Snyder probably knows.)
They made do with “swell” and, despite an ill-fated and short-lived infatuation with “bitchin'” – printed repeatedly in ballpoint pen on the back of a Beach Boys album for her loving, mocking children to find – my mom’s second-favorite word of all time is “neat.” (Her favorite: “neat-neat-neat.” As in, “I just think that is neat-neat-neat, Joshua.”)
Which is great for a parental unit. Once I have kids, I’ll trade in sweet for neat, too.
In the meantime, I’m tired of being limited to three adjectives. Just saying “good” or “great” is too boring, “marvelous” and “remarkable” sound awfully pretentious, and ever since “South Park” introduced the Big Gay Al character, “super” carries with it some new connotations.
So, a proposed solution: Suffixes. This is the 21st century, and we’ve broken everything else down into the tiniest practical components. Our language should be just as adaptable and portable as everything else we use. As such, I give you “-tastic,” “-tacular” and “-licious.”
Try it. You like those nachos? OK, they’re nacho-tastic.
Your friend just got a new ride? It’s car-tacular.
Candidate for supervisor of Nevada County’s 4th District? She’s izzy licious, man. The 3rd District? Drew-tacular, dude.
Like, if you use these suffixes every day, we could, like, revolutionize the American language, y’know?
Feel free to blaze your own trails. Is your father a heck of a guy? He could be dad-ical. Or maybe you find this whole article josh-noxious.
But if you don’t, write me and tell me it was column-tastic. My mom would think that was neat-neat-neat.
Josh Wimmer lives in Nevada City.
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