The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring awe.” The northern lights and the Milky Way are awesome. So might be the view from the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. But common - and I mean common usage includes everything from winning a free lottery ticket to getting home from work 5 minutes early. And it has even begun to pervade mainstream television news where it will infect even more of the slower populace, though I suppose that should come as no surprise. It’s only two syllables so it’s easy to say for the lazy.
It’s a pity that the average North American has so puny a vocabulary that they can’t utilize some of its many synonyms eg. alarming, astonishing, awe-inspiring, awful, beautiful, breathtaking, dreadful, fearful, formidable, frightening, horrible, imposing, impressive, intimidating, magnificent, overwhelming, shocking, terrible, terrifying, wonderful and wondrous or perhaps daunting, exalted, fearful, frantic, grand, majestic, mind-blowing, moving, striking and stupefying. But of course it’s used because people think it is in vogue and that is enough.
Naturally, it will pass away eventually, as slang does, but it may take a long time. In Toronto the questionable promotional synonym ‘Megacity’ was shamelessly bandied about repeatedly on one local TV station until it was finally laid to rest about a decade later. The word ‘cool’ has outlived many expressions of its time and still remains in use. It too could be synonymous with the afore mentioned A-word, but it’s probably no longer considered fashionable, even though it has only one syllable.
Another word appearing with increasing occurrence is ‘So,’ as a preface to any explanatory sentence. I suspect this expository overusage originates in the classroom where many bad examples are set. If so, the next generation will use it in every second sentence, but that hasn’t quite reached critical yet. On the national overuse of the word ‘eh’ in Canada I can say nothing without risking banishment to parts unknown at the very least, so I’ll leave it at that.