What does ‘awesome’ really mean?
by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2010)
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To consider the true meaning of the word ‘awesome’.
Preparation and materials
You will need three readers to speak the lines in the ‘Assembly’, Step 1. You may prefer to adapt them according to the latest fashion.
Have available the YouTube video ‘Star size comparison HD’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 2.33 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEheh1BH34Q
- Optional: have available one of the following YouTube videos and the means to show it at the end of the assembly:
- ‘How great thou art’ (5.22 minutes long), available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GKhDCsLrUg
- one of the movements from Holst’s The Planets. The full suite (49.14 minutes long) is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Isic2Z2e2xs
Listen to the following three statements.
Reader 1: That band was awesome!
Reader 2: I love J. K. Rowling, she’s so awesome.
Reader 3: Look at the way the universe is made. Isn’t it awesome?
The word ‘awesome’ appears in each of these three statements. In which one does it have its correct meaning?
Well, in a way, in all three. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines ‘awesome’ as causing feelings of great admiration, respect or fear.
Awe can be a complicated concept to grasp, but you may come close to understanding it if you think about how you feel when you look up at the stars, or see a beautiful sunset or stunning scenery. You know that there is something out there bigger than you, you are amazed by it and you hold it in high esteem and respect.
Alternatively, you can think of awe like this: is there something that your parents own that you have never been allowed to touch? Or have you been given something special to hold or look after for someone? You may have a feeling of great respect for that object, or a feeling of wonder.
Maybe you’ve held a newborn baby and looked in awe at the tiny fingernails!
Those feelings of respect and wonder are how you feel when you are in awe of something.
(You may wish to replace the following example with one taken from your own experience.)
For example, my mother has a large collection of Royal Doulton china ladies on her dressing-table. When I was small, they were the things that I was not allowed to touch and I looked at them with wonder. Even now (at the age of 30!), I still get a little nervous around them and have no idea what I will do with them when they get passed down to me.
Alternatively, just imagine what it would be like to meet your favourite celebrity, or someone else whom you respect greatly. I have no doubt that some of you might be more than a little tongue-tied if a certain celebrity walked into the room right now!
Next time we call something awesome, let’s think about the three letters at the beginning of the word. To be in awe of someone or something, be it real or imaginary, is to say that something really affects you as a person. It makes you feel respect that is mixed with amazement and wonder, and might even feel a bit scary.
Awe is a good feeling, though. Even though I’m still a little frightened of the Royal Doulton ladies, I can’t help but think that they are beautiful and that I enjoy looking at them. I will just have to be very careful when I come to dust them!
Time for reflection
Show the YouTube video ‘Star size comparison HD’.
Express that sometimes, watching videos like this one can induce the kinds of feelings we have been thinking about – we can feel full of awe.
You may wish to take responses from students about how the video made them feel.
The world we live in is awesome! It is full of beauty - it’s just that sometimes, we need to lift up our eyes and take the time to look.
‘How great thou art’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GKhDCsLrUg
One of the movements from Holst’s The Planets, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Isic2Z2e2xs