Katy Steinmetz had a delightful rundown yesterday in Time of some of 2012’s worst words and phrases: the ones that popped up everywhere, like evil prairie dogs, making you long for a society that communicated solely through pictographs. Her bag of verbal irritants included YOLO, adorkable, mommy porn, and zombie apocalypse.
But towering above these in sheer horribleness is one word that I couldn’t even believe Steinmetz hadn’t made up, despite mounting Twitter evidence to the contrary: amazeballs. I suppose the idea is to convey cake balls, or perhaps some other type of balls, made of amazing. And then, by conjuring this Deep Image—which in its reluctance to be visualized puts Robert Bly to shame—to fan outward into abstraction, so that anything can be amazeballs: you, me, your go-to holiday outfit, brownies (which are square, and have nothing to do with balls of any kind). It is frightening.
I felt so traumatized by my discovery of amazeballs that I dropped everything and tried to prove that it (they?) didn’t exist. But in September 2012, amazeballs rolled into the Collins Online Dictionary, with the definition “an expression of enthusiastic approval.” The Urban Dictionary glosses it thusly: “Basically beyond amazing. Being so awesome that a regular word can't describe you.” It appeared on PerezHilton.com as early as 2009—at which point multiple commenters implored the blogger to “stop trying to make amazeballs happen.” (Please! Use fetch instead!) On June 15, 2009, amazeballs started trending on Twitter, prompting Hilton to fire off a series of victory tweets about his contribution to the lexicon. But trouble brewed on the horizon: The comedy duo Jessica and Hunter posted a YouTube video on June 23 claiming that they had invented the term. Cue turf war.
As it happens, they’re both wrong. The originator of the term appears to be fashion blogger Elizabeth Spiridakis. In an interview with Gavin McInnes, Spiridakis takes credit/responsibility for the adjective/noun/adjective-annoyingly-disguised-as-a-noun—though she wisely displaces some of the blame onto her BFFs. Spiridakis:
To be fair, the true originator of “amazeballs” was probably Ece Ozturk or Andrea Oliveri, two of my best friends. We met at Details mag in 2003 and all had a love of ridiculous shorthand and nicknames and dumb jokes like that. Putting “-balls” on everything was pretty standard (starveballs, hungballs, tiballs, exhaustballs = starving, hungry, tired, exhausted. regs vocab for girls at magazines.) I just had a forum to make it more public because I am addicted to the internets and they are just sorta “whatevs” about blogs, etc.
Now, if someone referred to themselves as “hungballs” around me near lunchtime, I would lose my appetite. And while Spiridakis showed good taste (sort of) by first using amazeballs online (as far as we can tell) in reference to Slate’s own Simon Doonan, she mostly showed bad taste by using the word at all. Did she imagine we were suffering from a shortage of balls in contemporary conversation? Must a few dangle from every mental or physical state like those pom-poms that are in some places illegal to attach to the rearview mirror of your car?
A few sorry celebrities seemed to think so. Katy Perry and Kate Walsh, among others, began to appropriate amazeballs for their own ends. A recipe materialized. In a crowning moment for the neologism, Gwyneth Paltrow referred to one character’s rendition of the Aretha Franklin hit “Ain’t No Way” as “amazeballs” on Glee.
In November of this year, amazeballs racked up a more dubious honor. It was added to the Dictionary of the Most Annoying Words in the English Language, where it was defined as “an exclamation inviting someone to hit you.”
It’s still the best definition I’ve seen.
TODAY IN SLATE
The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola
How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics
PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer
Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse
An Unscientific Ranking of Really, Really Old German Beers
Welcome to 13th Grade!
Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.
The Actual World
“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.