18 awesome ways to say awesome
As we recently asked our followers on Twitter: are you tired of the word awesome? Do you want a different way to express the same idea? Well, we’ve delved around in the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, and come up with eighteen synonyms for awesome (in the sense meaning ‘excellent’, rather than its original sense ‘full of awe, profoundly reverential’). Here are some words you could use instead, presented (as in the Historical Thesaurus) in chronological order…
thriven and thro
Thriven here appears to derive from the sense meaning ‘advanced in growth’, but thro is not found as a commendation elsewhere – instead it was used in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries to mean ‘stubborn’. Together, as ‘thriven and thro’, they were an epithet used in alliterative poetry to call someone excellent – dating to c.1325, according to Oxford English Dictionary (OED) findings.
Although the earliest known sense of gradely probably referred to people and meant ‘ready’ or ‘prompt’, by 1400 the word could be used to refer to objects – to label them (as with all the words in this list) awesome. You might not be understood if you said this in London or Cornwall, but it’s still in use in the north of England.
Eximious comes from Latin eximius, meaning ‘select, choice, outstanding, exceptional’ – closely related to exempt – and was common in 17th-century literature as a way of describing someone distinguished. Examples from 19th-century literature are usually intended to be humorously bombastic, and that’s probably the way you’d be interpreted today.
Appearing surprisingly early – around 1560, according to current research – jelly may be related in some way to jolly, although the phonetic change has no parallel. The use is also a little different – describing someone excellent, but with a high opinion of themselves. There is even an adverbial derivative: jellily.
From the Latin praestāntia, meaning ‘excellence’, this adjective has the distinction of being both rare and obsolete – with only one instance recorded in the OED, from Tobias Whitaker’s 1638 The Blood of the Grape.
The earliest sense of the adjective gallows means simply ‘fit for the gallows’ – that is, deserving to be hanged. In the same way that wicked and bloody have come to mean their reverse, gallows became a slang adjective meaning ‘excellent ’, first found in 1789. An instance of gallows humour, if you will. The word is still very common in Scotland (in the form ‘gallus’).
This Australian colloquialism dates back to the 18th century, and derives from an Aboriginal language – as does the more familiar word budgerigar, literally ‘good (budgeri) cockatoo (gar)’ .
Particularly used to describe drinks, supernacular is the adjective equivalent of the slang noun supernaculum, meaning ‘a drink to be consumed to the last drop’. A jokey pseudo-Latin learned coinage based on the German expression auf den Nagel (literally ‘on to the nail’; found in the phrase auf den Nagel trinken: to drink to the last drop).
jam / jam-up
From the adverb jam or jam-up (meaning ‘closely, in close contact ’) developed the adjectival meaning ‘excellent, perfect, thorough’, in (originally American) colloquial use. One could thus, conceivably, jam up jam-up jam, if you were stacking shelves of awesome strawberry preserve.
The adjective boss, meaning ‘excellent, masterly’ (essentially in the manner of a boss) developed earlier than one might imagine from attributive use of the noun in collocation with occupational titles, e.g. ‘boss shoemaker’, ‘boss carpenter’, etc. (for ‘master shoemaker’, ‘master carpenter’, etc.) — the first truly adjectival use recorded in the OED is from 1881: ‘No country in the world could make such a boss-show as the United States.’
Many verbs with specific senses have come to have a broader adjectival slang sense of ‘excellent’ – such as ripping, topping, and rattling. Fizzing is another example, often used quasi-adverbially.
Bad can, of course, be the antonym of awesome, but its slang use to mean ‘good’ is well-known – popularized by the 1987 Michael Jackson song ‘Bad’. However, this sense of the word can be found rather earlier than you might expect – at present, the OED’s first citation is from George Ade’s 1897 Pink Marsh: “She sutny fix up a pohk chop ‘at’s bad to eat.”
Deevy is an affected alteration of divvy, which is (in turn) a slang abbreviation of divine. Early uses cited in OED include examples from the works of Elinor Glyn (in her 1900 novel Visits of Elizabeth), Vita Sackville West, and E.F. Benson (who also uses the adverb deevily).
V.g. – as an initialism for ‘very good’ – may well not be new to you, but you might be surprised to find that it’s been part of the English language since at least as far back as the 1860s. The OED cites it in a quotation detailing the generosity (or otherwise) of a particular prison warden: “[he] was not in their [i.e. the prisoners’] opinion sufficiently liberal with his V.G.’s (‘Very Good,’ as marked in the accounts.)”
This Australian and New Zealand slang adjective, of unknown origin, also appears in the form boscar and boshter. More familiar will be the similar bonzer (also meaning ‘extremely good’), which – it has been suggested – may be an alteration of bonanza. In turn, bonanza is the Spanish for ‘fair weather, prosperity’, and was first used in English to describe a highly productive mine.
This originally American adjective is now used further afield If you want some alternatives, Australian and New Zealand slang have jakeloo,jakealoo, and jakerloo.
Although dating back to the 19th century with the sense ‘complete, thorough’, this adjective later appeared in American slang as a synonym for awesome, currently first attested in 1976 (and gained the meaning ‘sexually attractive’ in the 1990s). The word was greatly popularized by the teen film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). It is probably a variant of the (south-western) English dialect word boldacious, a blend of bold and audacious.
So, there you have it: 18 words you can use instead of awesome – although, we must admit, some of them might be unfamiliar in 21st-century conversation. Still, there are plenty of options out there. For a list of synonyms which are more likely to appear in everyday use, why not have a hunt through the entry for awesome in our current English thesaurus?
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