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adjective informal

used to say that something is extremely good, impressive, enjoyable, etc

'Can I just say that Beyonce's light show, while amazeballs, was a tad bit overwhelming – it's always concerning to me when I can no longer distinguish between real life and computer screens.'

Celebrity Dirty Laundry 4th February 2013

'I have to mention this because it was kind of mind-blowing. We tried out a Disney Cruise (the new Fantasy) and it was amazeballs. I thought it would be mostly fun for my son -- and it was. But it was fun for me, too!'

The Stir (blog) 11th February 2013

Wow, you look totally amazeballs in that outfit.

It was a fantastic show, the set was amazeballs.

Confronted with the two sentences above in print or conversation, would you wince with distain at the choice of the highlighted adjective, or applaud the user as someone fashionably au fait with popular language? Whether you view the word amazeballs as dire or de rigueur, its meaning is undoubtedly transparent, and if you're regularly exposed to popular English media, then there's a strong chance you'll have come across it in recent months.

occasionally, a new word comes along and sparks a high-profile ripple of dislike amongst language users, whether professional writers or day-to-day bloggers

Though English is a language rich in synonymy and has a whole raft of adjectives designed to show enthusiastic approval of something – think amazing, fabulous, fantastic, gorgeous, lovely, wonderful, breathtaking, sensational, phenomenal … and that's only just the tip of the iceberg – it seems there's a perpetual desire to come up with something catchy and new, and one of the most recent kids on the block is this rather bizarre adaptation of the adjective amazing into amazeballs.

Though initially mainly used by bloggers and social media aficionados under a certain age, its journey into more widespread recognition was assisted considerably by the concept of crowdsourcing by dictionary publishers. Macmillan's very own Open Dictionary is a great example of this data collection technique, in which members of the public are invited to become 'word-spotters' and suggest new and emerging words for potential inclusion. Amazeballs, it seems, has cropped up sufficiently for some publishers to consider it worth recording.

It transpires however that this expression is a great example of how, just occasionally, a new word comes along and sparks a high-profile ripple of dislike amongst language users, whether professional writers or day-to-day bloggers. Generally defined as 'an enthusiastic expression of approval', amazeballs has fuelled such a wave of derisive comment that it's also been given the tongue-in-cheek alternative definition 'an exclamation inviting someone to hit you'.

I'll leave you to decide. All I can say is that, if people are still using it in ten years' time, then that would be, to my mind, totally amazeballs

Background – amazeballs

Promotion of the expression amazeballs is mainly attributed to US TV personality and gossip-columnist Perez Hilton, who used the term on his well-known blog back in 2009. Though Hilton's use of the word met with some hostility, it later began to trend on Twitter, prompting him to post a series of 'victory' tweets regarding his successful expansion of the lexicon. According to some sources however, amazeballs did not originate with Hilton and was in fact coined by fashion blogger Elizabeth Spiridakis who, along with a couple of workmates, had some years earlier cooked up the practice of adding the suffix -balls to various adjectives as an in-joke.

Wherever amazeballs originated, it's a good example of how certain words seem to persist despite negative reactions, the very debate about them somehow perpetuating their existence. Of course the use of social media, discussion forums and other web-based platforms means that such words can be widely exposed and therefore have a much better chance of survival than they may have had in previous eras.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord. Black swan.

This article was first published on 19th March 2013.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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