EPIC. DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS?
Few days pass that I don’t see a ridiculous post like this:
There is nothing epic about this. At best it’s little more than a typical martial arts fight scene that shows some cool Audi technology. But epic? A little visit to dictionary.com gives this meaning of the word:
Adjective. Also epical.
Mediocre advertising and lazy writing in general has turned the term epic into a cheap expression that means “awesome shit” or whatever cliché one might dredge up to describe something that is generally ordinary. And when placed in a headline, it’s either a lie or what Huck Finn would call a “stretcher” at best. I wonder how many writers who seize on epic — struggling for that headline that will draw eyeballs and likes and reposts — even know who Homer was. If asked, the likely answer would be the dad in the Simpsons, not the blind poet who passed along Western literature’s greatest epic poem to humankind.
The Audi ad has no epic qualities. It will be forgotten by the end of the month. Maybe sooner. I am already having trouble recalling its particulars. And calling the martial arts mayhem in the ad epic isn’t even a stretcher, given the range of scenes that might compete for the title, Uma Thurman’s role in “Kill Bill” being an obvious example. And let’s not forget Bruce Lee.
Robbing the power of words to connote their true meaning makes all of us poorer.
When everything becomes epic or awesome or heroic, virtually nothing is. Awesome, like epic, in common use bears no relation to its meaning — that being, inspiring awe. Heroic long ago lost its heft from overuse.
The laundry of lazy writing and writers could fill a bajillion laundromats, which, if one knows the meaning of bajillion, is fairly likely since you can’t find laundromats as readily as we once could and whose steady disappearance from the landscape mirrors the likes of gas stations and phone booths. But bajillion is simply a term that denotes an extremely large number — and readers know that. Use it at your leisure to describe big numbers with some freedom, knowing that everyone knows you’re just talking about a lot of fucking stuff.
So, when might epic be used to reveal its true meaning? There might be some value in using it in writing about global warming or describing James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Other than that, writers ought to give it a rest. An epic rest, that being an impressively great and epically long one.
©2018 John Hofmeister. All rights reserved.
When I'm not writing for clients, I write about things that interest me. Quite of bit of satire, a genre that has become increasingly difficult to work in since reality has become such a farce.