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“London. Hello, Awesome” is a comparative culture essay written by a writer at large of the New York Times who returned to her post in New York office from England after 18 years, and it wraps up with the following episode she experienced back in New York:

“I was at the Apple store the other day, asking basic technical questions and trying not to take up too much of anyone’s mental space.

I told the salesclerk that I had to change my address, since I’d just moved back.

He asked me a million questions: Why? Where was I going to live? How about my family? How did I feel?

He considered the whole thing for a moment — me, the move, New York, life.

Awesome!” he said. And I think he really meant it.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/opinion/sunday/ta-ta-london-hello-awesome.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Oxford English Dictionary defines “awesome” as an adjective meaning;

  1. Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring awe.
  2. (informal) Extremely good; excellent.

If I take the salesclerk’s reply simply for the latter, what was “Excellent!”? Her answer to his questions, or her being back in New York? What did “he really mean it?”

Is this usage of “Awesome” current outside U.S. as well?

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'Awesome!' is more often used in that second dictionary listing, in a slang sense of 'Great!' or 'Excellent!' or 'Good job!'. It really is something to say that is an exclamatino, a marking of enthusiasm. I've been to a fancy restaurant where the waiter said, after I finished my order, 'Awesome!'. The inference is 'I applaud your choice of items and congratulate you on your ability to make such a hard decision'. Kinda weird, I know, but that's how it is used. What was 'awesome'? Nothing specifically, just that he thinks what ever was just said is awesome. –  Mitch Aug 22 '13 at 17:54
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Awesome (US) = Brilliant (UK) –  bib Aug 22 '13 at 17:57
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are you quite sure this is on-topic? The language employed by Apple people in no wise resembles English as it is generally understood. –  Brian Hooper Aug 22 '13 at 22:06
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If you are hitting people with a lot of boring questions in a row, and you need them to stay engaged, you say things like awesome, excellent, very good, all right... after each response to keep them on the line. –  jlovegren Aug 22 '13 at 22:52
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It's nothing to do with Apple. Just the age of that guy. Saying "Awesome!" every minute or two just means he is below a certain age (which I can barely remember; maybe I would have said "cool!" at that age...). –  GEdgar Aug 23 '13 at 0:24

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I think the key to understanding that phrase you quoted is another quote from the article:

In other developments, available phone numbers ran out, forcing the introduction of unpleasant new area codes. “Awesome” went from being a risible word used only by stoners and surfers to an acceptably ubiquitous modifier, the Starbucks of adjectives.

Twenty years ago, someone saying: "Awesome!" (or also commonly: "Totally awesome, dude!") was, as the author says, something from the surfer/stoner subculture. It would not get much mileage in mainstream use.

Nowadays, particularly among the younger generation, it is very commonly used. You can substitute "Great!" or "Excellent!" and get the same meaning.

However, as the other answers suggest, it can also be used disingenuously, as in "Oh, that's nice." That's why the author feels the need to clarify "And I think he meant it..." to show that the clerk was really saying it was great.

What was the clerk saying was great? It could be open to interpretation. Given that the author uses that line to close the article, which is about moving back to New York, I would say they meant it to refer to the move in general.

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It means ‘I’m not the least bit interested in your miserable, boring life, but I have to say this because I’m told to.’

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. . . and I don't have anything remotely relevant to say about all that, so "Awesome!" it is! –  Kristina Lopez Aug 22 '13 at 19:05
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I think the fact that the original author feels the need to add "and I think he really meant it" to the statement indicates that typically it is exactly as you say. –  KennyPeanuts Aug 23 '13 at 11:01

It means they can't think of anything else to say, but are trying to build rapport with you in a half-naive manner in order to potentially get you to buy something. Either that or they are on Adderall.

They don't get commission on it, but their "numbers" look better and they get respect from their peers when they sell stuff.

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There is a possibility that when you pause at the end of a sentence, you intend to end the exchange. Since the other party to the "conversation" has a vested interest in causing you to continue (but has nothing substantive to contribute) he needs to utter a short encouraging sound. The Neanderthals probably grunted.

Divergent cultural evolution led to a variety of forms for this utterance (such as uh huh, right, and, wow, brilliant or awesome). As a result of globalisation, these variants are no longer localised and we wonder whether the forms with which we are less familiar may have some meaning that we do not expect in our native dialect.

In fact, they all mean the same thing -- nothing.

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In the 50's it was, "Neat." In the 60's it was, "Groovy." In the 70's it was, "Far out." In the 80's it was, "Gnarly" (or Bodacious) In the 90's it was, "Awesome."

They all mean exactly the same thing depending on tone.

Spoken in a normal, calm tone, they all mean, "Good." Spoken with a little more energy and volume, they all mean, "Very good." Spoken loudly, with gusto, they all mean, "Excellent!"

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It means he/she is no more interested in your business so he/she start winding up the things.. instead of saying okay he/she said awesome so you not feeling bad.

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