Posted by: cochinblogger | May 14, 2013

“A Beautiful Mind”: An Awesome Book!

It’s beginning to get on my nerves, this overuse of “awesome.” Yes, the word has spread its tentacles to India, and people are awesome-ing anything and everything at the drop of a hat. “It was awesome!” or just plain “Awesome!” has become the lowest common denominator of praise. Apparently, the word first became popular in Californian surfing circles. It’s amazing how American popular culture is soaked up globally.

The A word is a proud, powerful, dignified word that has been reduced to a pale shadow of its true self; as the following post puts it, it’s now merely a synonym for “very good, excellent.” If there is an aristocracy in the world of words, the A word is blue-blooded — and should stay that way. Using it the way it is used now is like setting out the best silver in the house for every meal.

Words I Hate

The following post explains why the A word should be sparingly used. Adam has nailed it! (I’m detecting signs of overuse with “nailed it” too, but maybe I’m being too sensitive.)

On ‘Awesome’ and My Alleged Overuse of the Word

Do not underestimate the power of words to raise hackles. Here is a man who is spearheading an anti-awesome movement:

Campaign Launched in LA to Ban the Word ‘Awesome’ (by an Englishman)

And lastly, here is a sentence that deploys the A word correctly (though admittedly, more context from the book is necessary to appreciate this):

Even as a student, his indifference to others’ skepticism, doubt, and ridicule was awesome.

The sentence is from A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar’s biography of Nobel-Prize-winning mathematician John Nash. Nash won the Economics Nobel for his contributions to game theory; astonishingly enough, there is no Nobel for the queen of the sciences, Mathematics. The Nobel equivalent in Mathematics is the Fields Medal.

Nasar’s book was especially interesting for me — my father is a mathematician — for the window it opened into the mind of a mathematician. And there is the additional “complication” that Nash became a certified schizophrenic, which added to the book’s fascination because I’ve always been interested in abnormal psychology. Schizophrenics rarely recover, but Nash is one of the few who did emerge from the darkness after twenty long years. 

The book also describes how US universities transformed themselves from modest beginnings to the world leaders they are today, and the politics that shrouds academic appointments and the selection of winners of academic prizes. Nash’s account of the controversial selection of Nash for the Nobel in 1994 is fascinating in its own right. It must be remembered that the Nobel Prize in Economics is not one of the original Nobel prizes, and it’s official name is “The Central Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Science in Memory of Alfred Nobel.”

Nasar writes that the Nobel in Economics was opened to the social sciences following the controversy Nash’s nomination generated, and though a political scientist won a prize subsequently, the policy change has not been officially acknowledged. The workings of the Nobel Committee remain as mysterious as ever. I’m reminded of the controversy over the Physics Nobel for 2005, which normally would not interest me, except that fellow Syrian Christian George Sudarshan missed the prize.

And, by the way, Nasar’s book has buried in it an unusual, heart-warming love story.

All in all, an awesome book! 🙂

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