I understand that English evolves. I understand this so much that I wrote an article about it and quickly became the most sought after writer on the topic on this site. But in the last few years a word has evolved in an irritating direction. It peeves me for 2 reason. It’s a word I previously liked and defined events with few synonyms of equal power. But it also irritates me that a generation younger than mine could redefine a word, and its constant use has the ability get under my skin. It bothers me that it bothers me. I have become a crotchety and cynical old man before my first grey hair arrives, scathing at the youth for collectively redefining a word I knew before they were born and started stepping all over my lawn. The word in peril is “Epic”.
In my day, let’s call it the 90s for convenience, the word “epic” was reserved for two things; a voyage or journey that was beyond grand, or a rock song over 10 minutes in length. The Lord of the Rings, The Mayflower, Apollo 11, Exodus: all epic adventures. “Thick as a Brick”, “A Change of Seasons”, “Supper’s Ready”, “Shine on you Crazy Diamonds”, “2112”: all epic songs.
The word “epic” has been redefined to mean anything from great to slightly above average. A coffee mug can become epic when it also looks like a gun says Epicthings.net. Hawaiian Pineapple Heat is an epic salsa according to Ernie’s Epic Foods. Jeff Gibbard designed his own epic salad. All of these things look good to me, with “good” being the most appropriate word I can think of from my 90s vocabulary.
The voyage of the Titanic was quintessentially epic. Its fate was quintessentially an epic fail, the most common use of the term today. A fail can be defined as anything not going as planned. A trip over a log, a fall off a bike, a strike-out in baseball are all fails. The adjective of epic doesn’t detail the fail as anything beyond that of a normal fail, it just means it’s being described by someone between the ages of 12 and 30.
Imagine for a few paragraphs that the term “Epic Fail” was popularized in the early 1910s, reaching its height in popularity for the 1912 voyage of the Titanic. After Mr. John Bradley Cummings carelessly drops his “egg a l’argenteuil” his buddy Mr. Frederick Pengelly laughs out loud (LOLing was a few years off) and utters “Epic Fail”. Later in the evening Major Archibald W. Butt chuckles after Mr. Roger Marie Bricoux hits a wrong note on his cello on Glow-worm and screams “Epic Fail”, embarrassing Mr. Bricoux in front of his band friends. In fairness, it was payback for Mr. Bricoux’s incessant jokes about Major Archibald’s last name.
The ship hits an iceberg, begins to sink, etc and John, Fred, Archie and Roger are going down with the ship. They all make eye contact with each other thinking of the final words they will share before dying a painfully slow, hypothermic death. They realize that the phrase “Epic Fail” sums up the events like no other phrase could, but they’ve already used it dozens of times already. The last words they said to each other was a butt-related joke directed at Archie and his surname. There was no more perfect phrase to describe the sinking of the Titanic than “Epic Fail”. These four friends died with that as their final thought.
Now is the point of the article where I come to grips with the word’s new definition. It doesn’t mean I’m happy we’ve lost the original use, just that any attempt to stop it on a site with 10 daily visitors is an odd waste of time. It’s not the first word to turn bland by generalized use. “Terrific” once meant to “cause terror”. “Wonderful” meant “capable of eliciting wonder”. “Fantastic” meant “bizarre”. Put any of those 3 words in front of the phrase “chicken wings” now and they all equate to “Pretty good chicken wings”. I have no problem with this as it didn’t happen on my watch. An older generation somehow let those words slip.