language and words in the news Love English

Is ‘amazeballs’ still amaze?

© Digital Vision / PunchstockMacmillan Dictionary’s BuzzWord column recently had its tenth anniversary, prompting word-watchers to look back on a decade of innovation in English vocabulary and usage. One of the featured words has a way of drawing both positive and negative attention to itself, and lots of it: amazeballs.

Full disclosure: I never adopted amazeballs (which, for the record, is an informal word for ‘amazing’), but I did use it once or twice with a large side-helping of irony, and a few times when discussing it. When I mentioned it on my blog Sentence first a couple of years ago, I was told that amazerbeams (based humorously on laser beams) was where the slangy action was at.

Young people often reject things once they become adopted by their parents and other establishment figures – witness their leaving Facebook as it becomes associated more with older generations. So amazeballs‘ popularity with its original user group may wane as it spreads to grown-up, professional types. It wouldn’t be the first to follow this path.

About a year ago, singer Tim Burgess tweeted a joke about an imaginary new cereal called ‘Totes Amazeballs’, and Kellogg’s duly made it real. Burgess’s hip credentials, combined with the food manufacturer’s popular appeal, gave this silly-season story – and the word at its centre – quite a boost. A backlash was inevitable, and amazeballs often features in lists of hated words. For example the BBC, while describing its rise as “meteoric“, called it one of 2013’s most overused words.

The BBC article quotes lexicographer Ian Brookes as saying, ‘You know a word has arrived in language when people use it without needing to explain it’ – but in this case I think most people knew what amazeballs meant the first time they heard it. It’s pretty self-explanatory, as are other amaze– coinages like amazetastic, amazetabulous, and amazeroonie (in decreasing order of Google hit count).

The short adjectival form amaze – which gave rise to the neologisms above – also remains common, and is a good example of conversion or zero derivation, where a word’s grammatical category is changed without altering the spelling. Amazeballs and company all testify to our love of language play, and specifically the fun of new words. By creatively refashioning familiar forms, we challenge expectations and enjoy ourselves too.

Amazeballs might fade in general usage; Kerry Maxwell said it would be ‘totally amazeballs’ (totes amaze, if you prefer) if people were still using it in ten years’ time. But I don’t know. Since arriving on the scene a few short years ago, amazeballs shows no immediate signs of declining. That people get so worked up over something so harmless is what amazifies me.

Email this Post Email this Post

About the author


Stan Carey

Stan Carey is a freelance editor, proofreader and writer from the west of Ireland. Trained as a scientist and TEFL teacher, he writes about language, words, books and more on Sentence first, Macmillan Dictionary Blog and elsewhere. He tweets at @StanCarey.


Leave a Comment