I listen intently when people talk, and I delight in the concepts and pictures their words create. Conversely, I become frustrated when, as a listener, I need to mentally substitute my vocabulary words when people, equipped with the words, retreat to their favorite knee-jerk adjectives and filler phrases. Listeners have enough to do without having to also take on the vocabulary responsibilities of the speaker.
For that reason, many of my articles will involve how we, the speakers, can make the effort to convey exactly what we want to say. This requires thinking before we speak, reframing our initial impulsive responses, digging deeply into our sometimes-dormant vocabulary, or intentionally building our vocabulary to come up with just the right words—not those mindless throw-away words and phrases. (Can you detect my frustration embedded in that last point? That’s the power of adjectives!)
Many of us repeatedly use certain words that are often more apparent to others than to ourselves. For example, large cross sections of people have latched onto the words awesome and/or cool and won’t let go! I’m intentionally not in that group. I believe awesome is reserved to describe God and catastrophic events—anything that is jaw-dropping and elicits awe. As for cool, I’m a literalist and I struggle with using a temperature-related / temperament-related word as a catch-all adjective.
Because the clichéd awesome and cool are used to describe almost anything and the listeners are left to interpret the actual meanings, some speakers are taking back some of the control and introducing variety. They are teaming the overused adjectives with adverbs—usually weak adverbs. The result? We hear phrases such as really awesome, so awesome, or very cool, way cool, really cool, or pretty cool.
What’s the alternative? I recommend stockpiling an arsenal of strong, evocative adjectives and then strategically choosing those that create the desired results. On behalf of those of us who want one-stop options for awesome or cool, I’ve compiled a partial list of suggested alternatives—words that can stand alone and do not need the help of the weak adverbs.
Instead of awesome, depending on the situation, you could use amazing, astonishing, astounding, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, brilliant, captivating, excellent, exceptional, exhilarating, exquisite, extraordinary, gorgeous, impressive, incomparable, incredible, inimitable, luxurious, magnificent, majestic, miraculous, opulent, outstanding, overwhelming, phenomenal, rare, resplendent, riveting, sensational, spectacular, splendid, superior, superlative, superb, supreme, transcendent, tremendous, unbelievable, unprecedented, unsurpassed, or wonderful.
For cool, you might consider using alluring, ambitious, appealing, beautiful, clever, compelling, dazzling, delightful, distinguished, elaborate, elegant, enthusiastic, enticing, fascinating, fine, good, graceful, grand, great, handsome, ideal, imaginative, impressive, interesting, intriguing, lovely, memorable, nice, noteworthy, pleasant, precious, prodigious, radiant, refined, remarkable, soothing, special, stimulating, striking, stunning, surprising, touching, towering, uncommon, unusual and wild.
My challenge to you is to use this list and augment it. A place to start is the Internet. Among other adjective list sites, check out this very basic one: http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/12894/adjective-list. I hope you’ll find this adjective-gathering experience stimulating and rewarding! Let me know. I would love to hear from you.