You know how people abuse the word “awesome”? As in, “I bought popcorn for tonight’s game! Awesome!” or “I just won five bucks at the slot machine in Vegas. Awesome!” kind of abuse?
They keep using that word. I don’t think it means what they think it means.
Let’s consider this event from the true story of Louis Zamperini, as told by Laura Hillenbrand in her best-seller book Unbroken, about to be turned into a movie.
Louis and two other crew members, Mac and Phil, survive a plane crash in the Pacific during World War II.
After 33 days on the raft, a Japanese bomber spots Louis and the other men, and makes five rounds to shoot at them with machine guns.
Mac and Phil are too exhausted to jump in the shark-infested waters; they take their chances on the raft.
Louis jumps into the water under the raft during every bomber’s round, and every time he’s attacked by two sharks, approaching fast, mouth wide open, ready to bite his head off. He makes scary faces and punches them on the nose (learned that in survival school).
He survives both the gun fire and the sharks. This is a guy on the brink of starvation, so thin you could see the curvature of his femur bone.
When the bomber gives up, Louis goes back onto the raft and finds that the other two guys also have survived without a single injury, even though the raft they are on is full of holes, down to the tight space between the two bodies.
This is right after six days without water, when Louis had prayed to God that, if He would spare them, he would dedicate his life to Him.
Then, after spending a few sleepless days and nights mending the punctured raft with leftover glue and wet sandpaper, arms numb with fatigue, Louis feels (understandably) unhappy that the sharks had tried to eat him, so he decides to eat them; his friend uses the meat of a captured bird to tease a four-foot shark, while Louis pulls the shark’s tail from under the water, drags the shark sideways onto the six-foot raft, and stabs it in the eye, killing it instantly; he then cuts its liver out and eats it raw along with the other two men, feeling full for the first time in over thirty days.
Now, you are out-of-your-skin overwhelmed with admiration and happiness for their resilience and resourcefulness, so you do want to say this is awesome, but you just wasted the word for your friend’s greasy popcorn, so words fail you.
So, after a while, you mumble it’s great.